Just hours after the Legislature passed a bill limiting the storage of high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill into law. The rest of this story continues as originally written below. Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, highlighted the various nuclear projects that New Mexico has had over the decades as he urged his colleagues to pass a bill to prohibit the storage of high level nuclear waste without state consent and without a national permanent repository in place. The House voted 35-28 to pass SB 53 on Friday, sending the bill to the governor’s desk. This bill comes as a company, Holtec International, is seeking to build a temporary storage location for nuclear waste from power plants throughout the country.
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.
Over the past two decades, southeastern New Mexico has embraced an industry many other communities throughout the country have rejected. Following more than 20 years of proposals, studies and battles, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) opened near Carlsbad in 1999 to store nuclear weapons waste underground. Then, in 2010, a uranium enrichment plant opened in Eunice. And boosters have floated other ideas, including a nuclear waste reprocessing plant. Most recently, a group of local politicians and businessmen invited a private company to store high-level waste from commercial nuclear power plants on a thousand acres between Carlsbad and Hobbs.