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

Sierra Blanca was the proposed site for a nuclear waste landfill in a disenfranchised community in Texas, which would have endangered the environment and the water of the Juárez Valley.


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. There are about 900 residents, 60% of whom are mostly Hispanic. 30% of the roughly 430 housing units are vacant. Sierra Blanca is an extremely poor town where almost a third of the households live below the poverty level of $15,000. The town’s per capita income is about $10,500 but the entire county’s is only $8,000 [1].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Disposal of low-level nuclear waste at Sierra Blanca radioactive waste site, Texas USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Texas
Location of conflict:Sierra Blanca
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear waste storage
Specific commodities:Uranium
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The site the TLLRWDA selected is a 16,000 acre ranch the state bought from private owners located just outside of Sierra Blanca[1].

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Project area:6,474
Level of Investment for the conflictive project50,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:550- 3476 (2010 Demographic Profile U.S. Census Bureau)
Start of the conflict:1996
End of the conflict:1998
Company names or state enterprises:Texas 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 actors:George 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 organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sierra 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
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Development 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
Conflict outcome / response:Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:Waste Control Specialists proposed a disposal site in Andrews County, Texas as a less controversial alternative to Sierra Blanca.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

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

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

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

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]

Texas dump might get other states' radioactive waste- 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]

The Reyes Salazar Family and the Hidden Toll Behind Mexico’s Execution-meter [5]
[click to view]

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

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

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

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

Meta information
Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update15/02/2022
Conflict ID:1408
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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