100 Dallas facilities store radioactive material

June 27, 2011 2:55:17 AM PDT
Hospitals, universities and research centers are among the 100 facilities in Dallas that are licensed to handle low-level radioactive materials, and much of it piles up in thick barrels and boxes until it becomes worth the cost to have it shipped to one of three permanent U.S. disposal facilities.

A fourth disposal site is being developed in West Texas.

About 95 percent of the nation's low-level radioactive waste comes from the nuclear power plants, but The Dallas Morning News reports about 100 other places are also licensed to handle radioactive materials in the city alone.

The newspaper reports radioactive waste is stored at Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Baylor University Medical Center and Baylor College of Dentistry.

"We won't keep it forever," said Dr. Angela Bruner, radiation safety officer for Baylor University Medical Center. She said she will have it all collected eventually and shipped off to a disposal facility.

One such facility will be the one Waste Control Specialists is building in Andrews County, Texas, near the New Mexico border.

Proponents of the project have vouched that it will provide a safe place to dispose of radioactive waste.

"This is a great place for radioactive waste," general manager Linda Beach said of the remote, arid location. "The clay is awesome. You know, you really shouldn't be burying it in garden areas."

Opponents, however, worry about transporting the waste from source to dump and accepting waste from out-of-state. Putting the waste on the road could put Texans at risk, they say.

"It has been appalling that anyone would want to import radioactive waste into our state. That's not at all the type of material that we would want coming into our state. It's dangerous. It's risky," said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition who opposes nuclear power.

Low-level radioactive hospital waste, however, have short half-lives and may not be radioactive anymore, Bruner said.

Access to radioactive material is crucial to medical research, said Dr. John White, retired radiation safety officer for UT Southwestern and now radiation safety officer at the Veterans Affairs North Texas Health Care System.

White also is vice chairman of a commission finding disposal sites for Texas and Vermont waste, a proponent of the Waste Control Specialists project in West Texas.

"If you're going to shut off the pipeline for disposal, then you're going to stop medical use in research," White said.

Hadden, however, said she suspects the focus on medical waste is a sham. "I think it's being characterized as medical waste largely for political purposes," she told The News.

Load Comments