The recent sale of Waste Control Specialists ensured that the low-level radioactive waste dump in Andrews County will continue operating with its workforce intact, ending the struggling company’s search for a buyer.
But the acquisition of WCS, announced Friday, offered no sign that the efforts to begin storing up to 40 tons of high-level waste would resume. WCS was sold by Dallas-based Valhi Inc. to J.F. Lehman and Company, a middle-market private equity firm that invests in the government, defense, aerospace and maritime sectors.
“The main thing is that nothing changes at the Andrews disposal facility,” WCS spokesman Chuck McDonald said. “The disposal operations will continue as they have been, so that’s obviously very positive.”
Last summer, WCS lost an antitrust suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice that successfully blocked a merger with Utah-based Energy Solutions on antitrust grounds. Energy Solutions, which also specializes in decommissioning nuclear power plants, owned the only other low level nuclear waste dump for three dozen states.
Before losing the suit, WCS asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to temporarily suspend a review of the company’s application to store high-level nuclear waste, so the company could first sort out the merger while struggling to find the money to continue the licensing process. WCS had expected higher waste volumes than the company realized, prompting an effort to find new shipments that included the pursuit of approval to store high-level waste.
Such a facility, if approved, would be the first of its kind and help settle the contentious question of what to do with America’s highly radioactive waste until a permanent solution is found. Today that waste is stored in radioactive pools at power plants for at least five years and then in thickly walled casks.
J.F. Lehman is also in the business of decommissioning nuclear power plants, after recently acquiring NorthStar Group Services, which sends waste to WCS. The company did not indicate any plans to pursue a license of high-level waste.
“WCS is a unique asset that, together with our recent acquisition of NorthStar Group Services, will allow us to provide a complete and cost-effective decommissioning solution for U.S. nuclear utilities,” Alex Harman, a partner at J.F. Lehman, said in a statement.
WCS CEO Rod Baltzer released a statement saying he would not remain with the company but would consult during the transition.
His replacement, NorthStar CEO Scott State, said in a statement said the company looks forward to “engaging utility and government customers to develop strategic solutions to long-term needs for treatment and disposal of radioactive waste, including a substantial expansion of WCS’s intake of Class A waste for disposal.”
Class A waste is the least radioactive classification of low-level radioactive waste.