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March 17, 1999

Report indicates Andrews site may be unsuitable

UT study discloses presence of Ogallala aquifer in proposed nuclear waste site.

By Greg Harman
Odessa American

A study released by the University of Texas at Austin’s Bureau of Economic Geology shows the geology of western Andrews County may be unsuitable for radioactive waste disposal.

The report, released late last month and made public Tuesday, said the Ogallala aquifer is located beneath land owned by Envirocare of Texas and may also lie beneath Waste Control Specialists’ hazardous and low-level radioactive storage facility.

Both companies have proposed their facilities be used to dispose of low-level radioactive waste from Texas, Maine and Vermont.

Concerned mainly with the possible location of underground water beneath the two sites, the report prepared by the bureau’s research scientist, Alan Dutton, questions the methodology behind a recent report by Texas Tech University scientists, paid for by Pasadena-based Waste Control Specialists.

The Texas Tech report concludes that the Ogallala aquifer was not beneath the WCS site.

"He states that Ogallala is absent at the WCS site," Dutton’s report said.

"No scientific description or documentation were included with the text . . . to substantiate these interpretations."

The report also states that "the description of core materials" at the WCS site resemble those found at Envirocare’s 888 acres, located eight miles southeast of Envirocare’s unimproved lands.

Wet core samples taken from the Envirocare of Texas site reflect the presence of groundwater, the report said.

Core samples taken from the WCS site for the company’s 1993 application for radioactive waste disposal also were wet.

Both companies have touted the presence of the Red Bed Ridge, a thick bank of "impermeable" clay, on their lands as suitable for disposal of radioactive materials.

Dutton’s report said the ridge itself may not be as old as previously reported, and that the thickness of the High Plains aquifer increases along the ridge by 1.25 feet per mile to the southeast.

Groundwater "recharge" may be occurring at either location, the report says.

"A saturated section can develop and build up across the ‘Red Bed Ridge’ in a given area that is presently unsaturated," the report reads.

The report said the "conditions" at the WCS location "might at a later time come to resemble" those at Envirocare of Texas land areas.

Texas law forbids either site from being considered for radioactive waste disposal unless it can be proved that the Ogallala aquifer is not "recharged from or discharged to" either site area, a 1987 letter by Rick Jacobi, former manager for the Authority states.

The report said further study of the WCS site and lands in the south-central part of the county, near the border with Ector and Winkler counties, is needed.

The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Disposal Authority, the state agency charged with siting and operating a low-level radioactive waste dump in Texas for industry, educational and medical wastes from Texas, Maine and Vermont, requested the report from the Bureau of Economic Geology in January.


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