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Spent nuclear fuel storage plan draws questions

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

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Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces

State Sen. Jeff Steinborn has a battery of questions about a proposed interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in southeast New Mexico.

“I think the most pressing are some of the most basic questions about our state’s ability to handle this proposal,” said Steinborn, chair of the legislative Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee.

Last week, the Las Cruces Democrat sent questions to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the state attorney general, the state Environment Department and other state agencies, inquiring about everything from what routes are being considered for transportation to how oil and gas operations might be affected to questions of liability.

Holtec International is seeking to build a facility to temporarily store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel – currently stored in casks at nuclear power plants around the country – until a permanent repository is built.

Steinborn said some of the most important questions he wants answered are about possible transport routes, so communities that would be affected by the transport of the material can be identified, and the state’s emergency preparedness in case of an accident during transport.

Due to its weight, the waste would likely be transported by rail.

Steinborn said he hasn’t yet taken a stance on the proposed project and said the committee and the public deserve answers to form opinions about the viability of the project.

“I’m in fact-finding mode,” he said. “This is definitely a very serious undertaking that warrants a very serious conversation.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 60-day public comment period on Holtec’s site licensing application is open until May 29, and Steinborn encouraged New Mexicans to participate.

Don Hancock, director of the Southwest Research and Information Center’s Nuclear Waste Safety program, said the public comments received are intended to inform the NRC as it creates an environmental impact statement on the project as part of the application review process.

“Anybody in the country can comment who thinks that what Holtec wants to do could affect them,” Hancock said.

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