Ten-Year Anniversary Celebration of Sierra Blanca Victory
October 24, 2008
October 22, 2008 marks the ten-year anniversary of the proposed Sierra Blanca Radioactive Waste Disposal site being stopped in its tracks by a resounding "no" spoken by opponents. On October 22, 1998, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission voted unanimously to deny the Sierra Blanca Radioactive Disposal license.
This decision effectively prevented the creation of a 16,000 acre low-level radioactive waste dump in Hudspeth County, Texas, about 16 miles from the Rio Grande. The dump would have accepted around 60,000 cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste from power plants, hospitals and research facilities. The site would have served as the dumping grounds for waste from Texas, Maine and Vermont following legislation by Congress in 1980 requiring that states take full responsibility for disposing of their own low-level radioactive waste.
"Low-level" radioactive waste consists of the byproducts of nuclear power production. It can remain hazardous for anywhere from eight months to hundreds of thousands of years. The term "low-level" radioactive waste is misleading. For example, 85 percent of low-level waste comes from nuclear power plants and contains the same hazardous materials as high-level waste.
When the Sierra Blanca dump was proposed in 1991, there was a public outcry throughout Texas and even Mexico expressing concern over possible contamination of the Rio Grande and drinking water supplies. There was widespread disapproval of the plan, despite assurances that the dump would create jobs and be environmentally safe. Protests spanned the U.S.-Mexico border, uniting people in an effort to preserve the Rio Grande from contamination and to keep radioactive waste dumps away from people's homes.
Mexico, concerned that the proposal violated the 1983 U.S.-Mexico La Paz Treaty, which prohibited the construction of any facility that could affect the atmosphere within 40 miles of the border, lobbied heavily against the dump. Both houses of the Mexican Congress passed resolutions against the project.
Environmental activists, politicians, community leaders and many others on both sides of the border worked to stop the placement of the dump. People participated in the permitting process. Mary Lynch, of Dell City, reported for a decade on the issues and dedicated page two of the only newspaper in Hudspeth County to the proposed dump and related issues.
Through the many actions of these individuals and groups, the proposal for the radioactive waste dump was stopped, protecting the drinking water in the Rio Grande and the 16,000 acres in Hudspeth County.
Gary Oliver, one of the people who participated in the 24-month public hearing, described the effort to stop the dump. He said, "It was a big international movement centering around the unlikeliest of places. The project was a radioactive waste dump designed for "low-level" atomic detritus from nuclear power plants ("clean, safe, no greenhouse gases"), and the town was Sierra Blanca. But on October 22, 1998, we beat them. When anyone tells you that any project is a done deal, you can tell them So Was Sierra Blanca."