October 24, 2019

All Pueblo Council of Governors say no to nuclear waste storage

Holtec International

A rendering of the HI-STORE consolidated interim storage facility, proposed to be built in Lea County to store nuclear waste from across the country.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors adopted a resolution last week opposing license applications from two private companies to transport and store nuclear waste in Lea County, New Mexico and Andrews County, Texas.

The council, which represents 20 sovereign Pueblo nations of New Mexico and Texas, affirmed its commitment to protecting Pueblo natural and cultural resources from “risks associated with transport of the nation’s growing inventory of high level nuclear waste,” it said in a statement

Holtec International and Interim Storage Partners LLC each applied for licenses with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for transporting and storing nuclear waste in New Mexico and Texas. 

Holtec International applied for a 40-year license to construct and operate a multibillion-dollar complex in Lea County to house 120,000 metric tons of nuclear waste. The consolidated interim storage facility would house 8,600 metric tons of uranium initially. The uranium waste would be transported into New Mexico from nuclear generator sites across the country and housed in steel casks placed 40 feet underground.

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Interim Storage Partners applied to build a smaller storage facility in Andrews County, Texas that would hold 40,000 metric tons of nuclear waste. Andrews County is located in West Texas, along the New Mexico border.

Council members expressed concern over the lack of consultation between the federal government and Pueblo governments in determining nuclear waste transport routes and the lack of resources for emergency preparedness training and infrastructure on tribal lands. 

“We are very concerned that this project, proposing the transport of nuclear material currently stored at 80 commercial reactors in 35 states across the country, lacks meaningful consultation afforded our Pueblos and subjects our communities, environment, and sacred sites to unimaginable risk over many decades,” council chairman E. Paul Torres said.

The resolution calls for “meaningful government-to-government consultation” on nuclear waste transport and storage, and asks the members of New Mexico’s Congressional delegation to take steps to support the Council’s requests.

“Transportation of nuclear materials puts native communities at risk of radiation contamination along the route to Holtec’s proposed storage facility,” said U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland. “Our communities have already borne the brunt of the nuclear fuel cycle, and this country is still failing to address those contaminated sites. I stand with the All Pueblo Council of Governors to protect our resources and our families from the brutal consequences of storing nuclear materials at a temporary facility.”

Haaland is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo and was one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress in 2018.

The controversial project has drawn opposition from state leaders. In June, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed her own opposition to the project in a letter sent to U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Lujan Grisham said the project “poses significant and unacceptable risks to New Mexicans, our environment and our economy,” and warned that “any steps toward siting such a project could cause a decrease in investment in two of our state’s biggest industries,” pointing to agriculture and oil and gas development in Lea County.

The cities of Albuquerque and Las Cruces and the town of Bernalillo each passed their own resolutions opposing the project. 

But local leaders in Lea County have welcomed the proposal. The Carlsbad City Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of the project in July and Mayor Dale Janway touted the project’s potential to create jobs and revenue for the city, according to the Carlsbad Current Argus.

The Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance also supports the project and is hoping to lease a 1,000-acre plot of land to Holtec for the facility; while the New Mexico Building and Construction Trade Council, representing 15 New Mexico construction and craft unions, signed an agreement with Holtec to provide workers to construct the facility.