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Governor: NM Won't Be a 'Dumping Ground" for Nuclear Waste

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Tuesday, July 19, 2022   

After being rejected by Texas and Utah, the federal government has now picked New Mexico to house the nation's spent nuclear fuel, but the governor said the state will not be a "dumping ground."

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced last week it intends to issue a license to Holtec International, to locate a toxic waste storage facility in Lea County. Holtec has proposed to transport high-level nuclear waste from the East Coast across the country via rail lines to a facility slated for the state's southeast corner.

Don Hancock, nuclear waste program director at the Southwest Research and Information Center, objected to the decision.

"This is a very bad idea," Hancock asserted. "These kinds of waste facilities proposed in Texas and New Mexico and previously Utah, and historically it has been bipartisan Republican and Democratic opposition."

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham accused the NRC of putting profit over public interest. A bill to prohibit such a facility was introduced in the New Mexico Legislature last year, but failed to move forward. A similar bill passed in Texas. In a statement, Grisham said new legislation would have her full support.

Holtec said the New Mexico operation for nuclear waste would be temporary, but nonetheless seeks a 40-year license with the opportunity for renewal. New Mexico does not have a nuclear power plant within its borders, and Hancock argued the state should not have to solve the nation's nuclear waste problem.

"None of this waste we're talking about is in New Mexico," Hancock emphasized. "If it actually were a good thing, if it were safe, Holtec or anybody else wouldn't be thinking about trying to find someplace else."

Used nuclear fuel is currently housed at more than 75 U.S. locations. Holtec argued consolidation would better secure the radioactive waste from threats. Multiple New Mexico groups including tribal leaders oppose the operations. The NRC's final environmental assessment stated it would have minimal impacts on land, oil and gas, livestock operations and public health.


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