Officials with the company that wishes to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico are working to assure lawmakers that it would be both safe and secure.
Holtec International Project Director Ed Mayer presented the plans for the nuclear fuel storage to the Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee on Thursday during its meeting in Hobbs. His presentation comes as New Mexico has been fighting the company’s proposal. During this year’s legislative session, legislators introduced a bill to ban the storage of spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico. While the bill made it through two committees, the House ultimately did not pass the proposal.
Related: Bill to ban spent nuclear fuel storage in New Mexico passes committee
While the bill did not pass this year, spent nuclear fuel storage will likely be debated once again during next year’s session. In July, after the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced plans to issue a license to Holtec to construct and operate the facility, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called upon the Legislature to “deliver a proposal to my desk that protects New Mexico from becoming the de facto home of the country’s spent nuclear fuel and it will have my full support.”
Opponents point to the risks surrounding radioactive material as well as the history of pollution in New Mexico and environmental racism.
A bill clearly aimed at blocking Holtec International from building an underground storage site for spent nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico is moving forward. The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 5-4 to advance a bill that would ban the storage or disposal of spent nuclear fuel in the state — and would essentially kill Holtec’s plans to build a repository for this high-level radioactive waste in the Carlsbad area. It now will go to the House Judiciary Committee. A key point in the debate was whether the state has the authority to stop the federal government from approving what’s described as an interim storage site to keep the material until a permanent place is created. Some lawmakers and regulators who back House Bill 127 say although the state can’t interfere with how the commission regulates the waste, it can block storage sites that could cause adverse environmental impacts.
Concerns that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not properly vetted a proposal to locate a nuclear waste storage facility in Lea and Eddy counties led New Mexico to file a lawsuit on Monday in U.S. District Court. Holtec International, a New Jersey-based company, filed an application in 2017 for a license to construct and operate an interim storage facility in New Mexico. This comes as the United States lacks long-term storage for nuclear waste generated during power production and has been searching for a solution. While searching for solutions, interim storage facilities have been identified as one possible solution.
The state argues that the license is outside of the scope of authority for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission because of the impacts the facility could have to the people of New Mexico. These potential impacts could be both economic and environmental, according to the suit.
A Eunice resident, Gardner has spent the past few years fighting a proposal to store high-level nuclear waste in southeastern New Mexico.
“I was born here in Eunice, New Mexico, and have lived through a lot of ups and downs, oil booms and busts,” Gardner told NM Political Report. “But never have I ever felt that we needed an industry as dangerous as storing high-level nuclear waste right here.”
Gardner, who co-founded the Alliance for Environmental Strategies, is part of a groundswell of opposition to a project currently under consideration by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that would see the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facility be built along the Lea-Eddy county line.
Holtec International, a private company specializing in spent nuclear fuel storage and management, applied for a license from the NRC in 2017 to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico that would hold waste generated at nuclear utilities around the country temporarily until a permanent, federally-managed repository is established. The license application is making steady progress in the NRC’s process, despite the pandemic.
Proponents of the project tout the estimated $3 billion in capital investments and 100 new jobs that it would bring to the area. But opponents — including the governor of New Mexico, most tribal nations in the state, state lawmakers, 12 local governments and a number of local associations — worry that the proposed interim storage facility would become a de facto permanent storage solution for the nation’s growing nuclear waste. “There’s a great concern that this waste, should it end up in New Mexico, will really never move from here,” state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, told NM Political Report.
Ed Mayer, program manager at the private firm that is seeking to build one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities in New Mexico, wants to set the record straight. “You hear sometimes, oh, this is going to be a nuclear waste dump. This isn’t a dump,” Mayer told members of the Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee earlier this month. “This is a highly engineered, safe and secure facility.”
The firm Holtec International, which specializes in spent nuclear fuel storage, has applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which is still moving through the licensing application process established by the NRC for consolidated interim storage, would house up to 120,000 metric tons of high-level waste at capacity — more nuclear waste than currently exists in the country.
A proposal for New Mexico to house one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities has drawn opposition from nearly every indigenous nation in the state. Nuclear Issues Study Group co-founder and Diné organizer Leona Morgan told state legislators last week the project, if approved, would perpetuate a legacy of nuclear colonialism against New Mexico’s indigenous communities and people of color. Holtec International, a private company specializing in spent nuclear fuel storage and management, applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which has been in the works since 2011, would see high-level waste generated at nuclear power plants across the country transported to New Mexico for storage at the proposed facility along the Lea-Eddy county line between Hobbs and Carlsbad. Holtec representatives say the facility would be a temporary solution to the nation’s growing nuclear waste problem, but currently there is no federal plan to build a permanent repository for the waste.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Groups opposed to construction of a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s commercial reactors are on a tour this week to make sure people know what’s being proposed for southern New Mexico. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering a proposal from Holtec International to build and transport the waste, now stored in casks at various nuclear power plants around the country, to southern New Mexico. Don Hancock, director of the Southwest Research and Information Center’s nuclear-waste program, said New Mexico shouldn’t be the repository for 60 years’ worth of nuclear waste generated on the East Coast. “The proposal is to bring all that currently exists,” he said, “so, if this were to happen, the place where all this waste would be is in New Mexico, as opposed to now, when it’s in more than 30 other states and none in New Mexico.” The Holtec facility could store up to 100,000 tons of nuclear reactor waste for as long as 120 years, or until a permanent repository is built. The NRC’s 60-day public comment period on the site licensing application is open until May 29.
On Wednesday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the budget passed earlier this year by state legislators. But she refused to sign a bill that would have reinstated state tax credits for solar. That bill reinstated a tax credit that had expired after a decade, one that had spurred the deployment of 220 million BTUs per day of solar heating energy and 40 megawatts of solar electricity. The tax credit would have given people who install a solar thermal system or photovoltaic system at their home, business or farm a ten percent credit of the purchase and installation costs, up to $9,000. Previously, Martinez has praised the state’s “all of the above” energy resources, but by declining to sign the solar tax credit bill, she effectively vetoed it, but without having to explain why. This week, there’s an interesting water case before the Second District Court, over a private company’s plans to drill for groundwater in the Sandia Mountains.
On Thursday, Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Gov. Susana Martinez announced a $73 million settlement for claims from the state in relation to a leak of radioactive materials from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in early 2014. The $73 million settlement will go towards projects in the state around Department of Energy sites, including WIPP and Los Alamos National Laboratory. In late 2014, the state announced fines of $54.3 million for hazardous waste violations by the Department of Energy. The fines came after an investigation from the New Mexico Environment Department. Earlier this year, a report stated that the state Environment Department was considering $100 million or more in additional fines.