Assessing consent for the establishment of the AFCI High-Level nuclear storage site in Kent, Culberson County, Texas, starkly illustrates the inappropriateness of leaving this sensitive choice up to a single county.
The question of who should be approached in order to obtain consent does not appear to be an issue that a single county can address. In the event of major problem, such as an explosion, AFCIâ€™s own literature says that places within 150 miles of the site could be fouled by radiation.
It stands to reason that the basis of consent can only rest upon the approval of those who are most at risk of such exposure.
Next closest are Balmorhea, Toyah and Toyavhale. All three communities are at a distance of about 28 miles away from the proposed nuclear storage site, and all are in Reeves County. The communities have the following populations: 476 in Balmorhea, 90 in Toyah and 60 in Toyahvale. Saragosa and Verhalen, both in Reeves County, and at a distance of about 34 miles away from the storage site, toll their numbers at 185 for Saragosa and 12 for Verhalen.
All of these communities are closer to the nuclear storage site than Van Horn. At a radius of 34 miles, almost 900 people are more at risk than the residents of Van Horn. Pecos, also in Reeves County, is at a distance of about 40 miles, with a population of 8,807. Fort Davis and Valentine, both in Jeff Davis County, are at a distance of about 43 miles and have populations of 1,241 and 144 respectively.
At the radius of 45 miles, Van Horn, the county seat of Culberson County, is now included, with 2,096 residents. The Culberson County community of Lobo, with 15 residents, is also included. The population of Van Horn constitutes the vast majority of the voting public of Culberson County. But the 45-mile radius includes 10,078 souls outside of Culberson County — five times as many people as in the Culberson County seat.
To sum up: If the radius is 45 miles, long enough to reach the western border of Culberson County, where I-10 exits the county, the total affected population is 13,156, of whom 2,141 are Culberson County residents. This means that only 16 percent of those affected have a say in their fate.
If the length of the radius is 70 miles, long enough to reach the most distant point in Culberson County from the nuclear storage site, then the affected population is 22,145, of whom 2,141 are Culberson County residents. This means that only 9.6 percent of this number has a say in their own fate.
Extending the length of the radius from the nuclear site to 150 miles, the distance at which property could be fouled by nuclear material ejected by an explosion, defines an area inhabited by a total of more than 2,344,653 people, of whom only 2,141 are Culberson County residents. Culberson County residents constitute 0.0913 percent of the voting population.
This entire discussion has been conducted as if the population at large was entitled to vote on this issue. The reality is that four county commissioners, with a county judge acting as a tie-breaker, all in the Culberson County seat of Van Horn, are the only ones authorized to have a say in this decision. And they are not even obligated to vote the way the population does in their respective precincts.
It seems profoundly unfair, if not downright unjust, that such a few should decide the fate of so many. This does not seem to be an exercise in democracy at all. And the county commissionersâ€™ court system is certainly not capable of obtaining consent for this facility.
William F. Simmons
Note from Editor: This letter was edited for length. The Advocate prefers letters between 400 and 600 words in length.
We welcome various points of view regarding the proposed nuclear waste site. We believe in a healthy debate where all voices can be heard. Furthermore, we also believe there is no true “correctâ€ or “rightâ€answer to this issue. If the vote is “yes,â€then the county stands to benefit financially from taxes and other revenues — and yes, it also includes risk of a potential accident. If the vote is “no,â€ then all financial rewards to the county will go elsewhere as well as any potential risk.