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Spent Nuclear-Fuel Storage Facility Nixed by NM Legislature

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Monday, March 20, 2023   

Like Nevada, New Mexico has rejected a proposed interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.

Responding to the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission's plan to issue a license for a Holtec International facility in southeast New Mexico, the legislature passed Senate Bill 53 mostly along party lines, with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed.

The bill said no nuclear storage permits will be issued without support from state officials and not before the federal government has identified a permanent disposal site.

John Buchser, nuclear waste issues chair for the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, said a plan to safely transport nuclear waste via railroad from the east to a Western state has not been adequately studied.

"It's probably 10 years of research and then further decisions on, 'is that actually going to proceed?' And then dealing with the resistance of 'nobody really wants it,' " Buchser explained.

Nevada's Yucca Mountain was originally designated for the temporary nuclear waste repository, but strong state and regional opposition eventually killed the proposal. In New Mexico, city and county leaders from Carlsbad and Hobbs recruited Holtec to propose the nuclear-waste storage facility, and believe in its safety and promise to provide local jobs. The bill was signed by the governor hours after it passed.

Buchser hopes New Mexico's decision will put more pressure on Congress to create a permanent disposal site. He pointed out the problem of storing spent nuclear fuel is not unique to the United States, but some countries approach the problem differently.

"Finland is probably the best case, where they actually started with the premise, 'Let's talk to the people and ask them what they want to do with this?' " Buchser observed. "Instead of starting from the premise of the United States which seems to be, 'Let's define a site, and then we'll see what the public thinks about it.' "

A recent poll found 60% of New Mexico voters opposed the Holtec site, including 56% of those in southeast New Mexico. Those opposed to the "interim" storage site could become a substitute for permanent storage, with the radioactive waste possibly abandoned in New Mexico for a million years.

Disclosure: The Sierra Club contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, and Environmental Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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