Transportation remained a key point of questioning from state lawmakers and citizens over a proposed interim storage site for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel in southeast New Mexico during a Friday meeting of the Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee in Santa Fe.
But a top engineer with Holtec International, the company behind the proposal, said the focus is currently on the storage facility itself, not the technicalities of getting the waste there.
“It has a feel of putting the cart before the horse, so to speak, in a rather significant way for the state of New Mexico,” committee chairman Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said.
Stefan Anton, the vice president of engineering and licensing at Holtec, agreed that there is a bit of a “chicken and egg” problem, but the current application being reviewed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission deals mostly with the storage aspect of the project.
“The transportation aspect goes to (the U.S. Department of Transportation) and shipment operator who in the end would organize these shipments,” Anton said.
Skeptics and opponents of the project have contended that the U.S. railroads cannot bear the enormous weight of the waste-laden casks that would be used to transport the waste.
Anton said it’s not necessarily a question of weight, but more of the weight’s distribution.
“The capacity of railroads does not only go on weight, it’s the number of axles,” he said.
During a “Community Perspectives” portion of the meeting, Jimmy Carlile of Fasken Oil and Ranch Ltd. said he is worried over the effect the proposal could have on both industries, and the decisions made affect more than New Mexico.
“We don’t believe that this is a local issue. We don’t believe this is a state issue,” Carlile said. “We see this as a regional issue.”
Wearing the “cowboy hat of a rancher,” Carlile said any risk to the area’s groundwater is unacceptable, though he was quickly called out by Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, on the risks that could be posed to groundwater by oil and gas development.
Carlile said other ranchers in the region agree with him in opposing the project.
He added that the oil and gas industry struggles to attract workers to the Permian Basin due to “quality of life” issues there.
He worried the addition of the storage facility could further deter people from moving their families to the area to live and work.
“What family wants to … move their family … to that part of the world and have a high level nuclear waste site sitting there within fairly close proximity?” he said.