Disposal of low-level nuclear waste at Texas site, USA


Sierra Blanca is a small town in Hudspeth County about 90 miles southeast of El Paso, TX and only 16 miles north of the Mexico border.

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Basic Data
NameDisposal of low-level nuclear waste at Texas site, USA
CountryUnited States of America
SiteSierra Blanca
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Nuclear
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Nuclear waste storage
Specific CommoditiesUranium
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe site the TLLRWDA selected is a 16,000 acre ranch the state bought from private owners located just outside of Sierra Blanca[1].

Sierra Blanca already hosts Merco Joint Venture, the town’s largest employer shipping over 400,000 tons of New York City sludge daily.

Sierra Blanca is only 16 miles from the Mexican border.

La Paz Agreement of 1983, signed by both Mexico and the United States., states that both sides must work to “prevent, reduce, and eliminate any contaminating sources along the border zone extending sixty-four miles on either side of the border."

The waste may encompass reactor core control rods, resins, sludges, and piping that may include hazardous elements such as plutonium, iodine-129, nicle-59, and strontium-90. These radioactive isotopes would be hazardous for thousands, even millions of years [1].

Governor George W Bush's support for the site made it difficult for community groups to respond, being outspent 1000 to 1 [1].

Only 1% of Maine and Vermont populations and 37% of Texas' are people of color. Hudspeth County is 67% Hispanic [1].

Grassroots organizations able to obtain 42 resolutions opposing the proposal on the local, state, and national levels in Mexico and the U.S.

Over 400 Mexican children participated in protests and marches.
Project Area (in hectares)6,474
Level of Investment (in USD)50,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population550- 3476 (2010 Demographic Profile U.S. Census Bureau)
Start Date1996
End Date1998
Company Names or State EnterprisesTexas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC) from United States of America - Keep public records, manage storage and ensure law-abiding procedures
Merco Joint Venture, LLC from United States of America - Contracted for disposal
Relevant government actorsGeorge Bush, Governor of Texas, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ, formerly Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission), United States government, Texas state officials, Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority (TLLRWDA), government of Mexico,
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund, The Citizens’ Awareness Center and the Nuclear Information and Resource Center, Sierra Club, Greenpeace Mexico, Border Environmental Network, League of United Latin American Cities
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseProject cancelled
Development of AlternativesWaste Control Specialists proposed a disposal site in Andrews County, Texas as a less controversial alternative to Sierra Blanca.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.While the campaign successfully diverted the nuclear waste project, Texas continues to seek a disposal site and Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund has committed to fighting any site chosen in favor of more environmentally sound options.
Sources and Materials

Health and Safety Code Chapter 403 Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact
[click to view]

Public Law 99.240 Jan 1986 Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985
[click to view]

La Paz Agreement of 1983 between Mexico and the United States on Cooperation for the Protection and Improvement of the Environment in the Border Area
[click to view]

Public Law 105.236 Sept 1998 Compact Consent Act [4]
[click to view]


Environmental Justice Case Study: The Struggle for Sierra Blanca, Texas Against A Low-Level Nuclear Waste Site [1]
[click to view]

EPA What is Border 2012: La Paz Agreement 1983 [3]
[click to view]


For Some, Texas Town Is Too Popular as Waste Disposal Site- New York Times Sept 2 1998
[click to view]

Mexico on Nuclear Dump: Not on Our Border- Christian Science Monitor June 18 1998
[click to view]

Texas dump might get other states' radioactive waste- Statesman.com May 2010. Regarding siting of low level radioactive nuclear waste dump in Andrews County, the alternative site proposed in 1998.
[click to view]

Nuclear Waste is Good For You, Texas Observer by Richard Boren January 1998
[click to view]

Texans defend Sierra Blanca community against nuclear waste disposal, 1996-1998
[click to view]

Media Links

Arrival of the march in Sierra Blanca, TX August 1998
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorBernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update27/10/2016