March 14, 2023

Bill limiting storage of radioactive waste heads to House floor


A bill attempting to stop a company from storing radioactive waste at a facility near Carlsbad passed the House Judiciary Committee on Monday on a 6-5 vote.

SB 53 would prohibit the storage of high-level radioactive waste in New Mexico without the state’s consent and would only allow that storage to occur if a permanent repository for radioactive waste is operating. The federal law requires the creation of a permanent repository, but none has been created yet.

Holtec International is attempting to create a temporary storage facility where nuclear waste can be stored and later moved to the permanent repository. The company has identified a site in southern New Mexico for that storage facility.

Proponents of the legislation say that it would prevent New Mexico from becoming a dumping ground for radioactive waste and that the state has already done its share for nuclear energy. They point to the history of unremediated uranium mines and downwinders from the Trinity atomic bomb test. Additionally, New Mexico already has the operating Waste Isolation Pilot Project, which stores low-level nuclear waste such as contaminated clothing and rags.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said that the waste will be transported through communities throughout New Mexico, including those that oppose it.

The proposal calls for transporting the nuclear waste by rail.

Opponents of the legislation say that Holtec has demonstrated that it can safely transport and store radioactive waste from power plants around the country and that the project could provide economic benefits in the Permian Basin. Additionally, they say that storage of nuclear waste is important for the energy transition.

Steinborn said there have been incidents at nuclear waste storage facilities, including those run by Holtec.

“It’s not a matter of if there’s a situation,” he said. “It’s when and how serious. It’s where it occurs.”

SB 53 now heads to the House floor.