tmccarthy0's picture

    Sierra Blanca -- Bernie is a NIMBY but Not a Revolutionary

    In 1980 an important law was passed, this law required states to take responsibility for their low-level nuclear waste. It was known as "Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act of 1980".  The law itself urged states to cooperate, so states began to form compacts with each other to essentially rent spots to dump low-level radioactive waste.

    But this is a story about a a small town in Texas 16 miles from the Mexican border called Sierra Blanca; It was inhabited by a majority of people living under the poverty line with a majority Hispanic population.  In 1994 the Vermont legislature passed a bill establishing a compact with the states of Texas and Maine to dispose of nuclear waste.  Why is this important and where does Bernie Sanders come into the picture. First and foremost he was a proponent of the compact. According to the Institute for Social Ecology the legislation that was passed in Vermont was unprecedented in that is basically was going to pay Texas to keep their low-level nuclear waste. And they were all going to use this small town in Texas to be their dumping ground. 

    Texas governor George W. Bush and independent congressman Bernie Sanders both see it as a sacrifice zone.

    Of coures the NIMBY's in Vermont didn't want nuclear waste in their own backyard, even if it was from their own nuclear plant.  No. Mr. Sanders went on to co-sponsor the bill in the US congress so that Vermont and Maine could legally transport their nuclear waste across the nation to dump it in Texas.  

    Here is the story from the Activists at the time, and one of these activists is Jim Hightower.

    The Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club, in cooperation with activists from West Texas, gave the issue a high priority in its summer campaigns, due to the impending congressional vote. On May 1st, Texas activist and radio host Jim Hightower went to Burlington to speak at a major fundraiser for Bernie Sanders, who has played an especially vocal role in ushering the nuclear compact through Congress. Sierra Club members and others gathered outside the Sheraton Hotel to voice their objections to the Sierra Blanca dump and Vermont’s role in creating it. Hightower made his objections clear in his speech to hundreds of Sanders supporters inside.

    On May 11th, about a dozen activists met with Sanders at his office. The delegation included two University of Vermont students who had just completed a thorough analysis of the scientific arguments in support of the Texas dump; they found numerous unanswered questions and more than a few outright falsehoods in the proponents’ arguments. Several participants in the meeting were astonished by the “independent” congressman’s vehement and unrelenting support for shipping nuclear waste 2400 miles to West Texas. It was the best site geologically, he claimed, much better than having nuclear waste scattered across the country, and besides, how dare we accuse Bernie Sanders of environmental racism? The August meeting with the Texas delegation featured Sanders at his most obstinate, insisting that he’d done the right thing and that he was no longer interested in the issue now that the compact bill had passed the House.

    Nuclear Politics, Texas-Style

    On July 29 in the U.S. House debate on the Texas-Maine-Vermont nuclear waste compact, Rep. Bernie Sanders, a sponsor of the bill, had argued that the compact and the dump site were unrelated issues. He also said that “the evidence is clear that Texas is the best place to get rid of this waste.” In an August meeting he told several of us that he is “confident that Texas will do the right thing” in siting the dump. Rep. Sanders has faith in the process as it is practiced in Texas.

    He was confident Texas would do the right thing? Umm really? Is that utter naivete' or is he just a politician who made a choice, a bad choice but made a choice none-the-less. Can he still defend his choice? Was he right about being a NIMBY?  It doesn't' solve the problem, it pushed the problem to someone else, and in this case to poor people.  Senator Paul Wellstone was the only congressman to vocalize opposition to the compact.

    *NIMBY -- Not in My Back Yard


    Good to know he's pragmatic in how to get things done. Maybe can get Keystone passed finally.

    Vermont's only nuclear power plant 'Vermont Yankee' has closed, off grid, reactor shut down, and is being dismantled. It was built in 1973. On a river. It leaked heavy water, radioactive tritium on occasion

    Reactors are far more potentially dangerous than low level waste disposal. They can melt down and blow-up.

    It's also fairly obvious arid west Texas is better for storage of low level waste than a high precipitation, storm prone, river rich region of New England.

    It all somehow depends on where you live. I was raised in New Mexico where the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was built over the objections, I might add, of the progressive Congressman Bill Richardson, who then seemed quite happy with it once Bill Clinton had named him Secretary of Energy.

    There are a ton of good points to be made on all sides about where these sites can be, where they have to be, who takes what risks and how they are compensated,  Part of the point here is, as with his concessions to his local gun culture,

    Bernie is a human politician, not a saint. That won't be a revelation to some but given that the big knock on Hillary is that she's a dirty compromiser, it's fair to point out that Bernie makes deals, too.

    Vermont Yankee will continue to store high level waste, depleted radioactive fuel rods, on the Vermont site.

    As is done as a stopgap with most or all other nuclear reactor installations in the US.

    And as at Fukushima in Japan where the used rods presented a great hazard when the coolant pumps failed due to power outages.

    I believe we have no current repository for this high level waste at this time.

    The hint of racism for the west Texas site seems off target, as the waste to go there is low level, the waste being left in Vermont is the most hazardous high level expended fuel rods.

    Michael, you may have heard that the WIPP site is shut down due to plutonium contamination from LANL's exploding barrels and that eastern NM and west TX received a nice dose from the fallout. It was suppose to be secure for 10,000 yrs but only lasted ten. The rest of the exploding LANL barrels are being stored in the open in Texas and no one seems to know what to do with them.

    The LLW mentioned in this post is probably from medical and industrial sources but it could also be from power plant contaminated clothing and trash. Not much radiation but a growing volume of waste that will be dumped where ever sleazy politicians  can hide it.

    Latest Comments