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Final NM Public Comments Due Today on Holtec Nuclear Waste Facility

This mock radioactive waste canister is meant to represent 100,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel rods. Holtec International wants New Mexico to store that amount of nuclear waste until a permanent facility is built. (Don Hancock)
This mock radioactive waste canister is meant to represent 100,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel rods. Holtec International wants New Mexico to store that amount of nuclear waste until a permanent facility is built. (Don Hancock)
July 30, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Residents of New Mexico opposed to a below-ground nuclear waste facility proposed for the state's southeast corner have until the end of today to make their views known to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC held public meetings in five New Mexico cities, where comments were mostly opposed to Holtec International's plan to transport spent nuclear rods to a 960 acre site located halfway between Hobbs and Carlsbad. Holtec is asking the NRC for a 40-year license to temporarily store the waste in Lea County, with an opportunity to extend the license to 120 years.

But there is no federal plan for a permanent storage site, and some critics fear New Mexico will become the permanent home for the spent radioactive fuel. Joni Arends, executive director at Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, said she believes the state already has taken its share of nuclear waste.

"Haven't they put enough in New Mexico?” Arends said. “Everything from Los Alamos National Laboratory to Sandia National Laboratory to the WIPP site; at what point do people stand up and say no?"

Holtec officials argue the facility would be an economic boost for the region and predicted $2.4 billion in capital investment. Following the public comment period, the NRC will prepare an environmental impact statement and determine whether Holtec will be issued a license for the facility.

Comments can be submitted to HoltecCISFEIS@nrc.gov.

Radioactive waste currently is stored at 60 U.S. power plants across the country. Holtec would ship all that waste to the New Mexico site by train, starting with a first phase of 500 canisters, and eventually reaching as many as 10,000. Arends said she does not have confidence in the shipping plan, and said while it will eventually arrive in a remote area of New Mexico, it could be routed through major cities such as Santa Fe.

"When we look at emergency preparedness, we know that many communities along the route are not prepared to respond to an accident,” she said. “And recently there have been many major railroad accidents in the southeastern part of the state."

A coalition of southeastern New Mexico municipalities has partnered with Holtec to bring the project forward, saying it will generate about 100 temporary jobs and about 100 permanent positions.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM