January 25, 2023

Expansion of prohibition of storage of radioactive waste bill heads to judiciary committee

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.

A bill that would expand the current prohibition on storing radioactive waste in New Mexico passed its first committee—the Senate Conservation Committee—on Tuesday on a 6-1 vote.

Under the proposal, companies like Holtec International would not be able to store radioactive waste from activities like nuclear power generation without first receiving consent from the state and without having a permanent repository for nuclear waste operational

The bill, SB 53, also expands the state’s radioactive waste consultation task force membership to include the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management; the secretary of the Department of Indian Affairs and the commissioner of public lands. 

The task force, in the past, has been limited to dealing with federal facilities. The proposed bill would expand that to include private facilities as well.

This comes in light of plans to move nuclear waste, including spent fuel, from power plants across the United States to a facility near Carlsbad.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and Reps. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo, Debra Sariñana of Albuquerque and Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque. All are Democrats.

A committee substitute that received support adds in language defining a disposal facility. 

During public comment, a representative from Holtec International, the company behind the storage proposal, said that the transportation and storage of radioactive waste will be done in a safe manner and that it is extremely unlikely that anything would happen that could lead to the radioactive material being released into the environment.

Steinborn said the storage facility was not something that New Mexico asked for, although some people in the Carlsbad area support it, and much of the state has passed resolutions opposing the storage of radioactive material in New Mexico. 

He said that federal law requires the construction of a deep geological storage facility for permanent disposal of radioactive waste from power plants.

“We’re saying, until that exists, we do not want to become the de-facto (storage location),” he said.

The Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the bill and opposes storage of nuclear waste in New Mexico.

Steinborn has carried similar bills in past years that have failed to pass, as Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, highlighted.

Cervantes said the past bills would likely have led to a lawsuit, but that Steinborn has made a lot of changes to the bill and has addressed one of the principal issues—federal pre-emption.

Cervantes is also on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will next hear the bill. He said that many of his concerns will be discussed by the judiciary committee.