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Lawmaker says he can’t get info on waste plan

State Sen. Jeff Steinborn

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A legislator says he isn’t getting any answers out of the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez to questions about a proposed interim storage site for spent nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Radioactive and Hazardous Materials, sent nearly 60 questions to the heads of several state departments in April.

Only one responded.

“It raises the obvious conclusion that this governor and her administration have done no analysis on this project,” Steinborn said. “The citizens of the state deserve to have answers on our state’s ability to handle this facility.”

The senator wrote in a July 9 letter to the governor that the New Mexico Environment Department did respond to his questions “but without providing substantive information on the issues raised.”

The Environment Department provided that letter to the Journal.

In it, department Secretary Butch Tongate said NMED would review the Environmental Impact Statement in progress at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “and provide comments to the NRC as necessary.”

“The Senator’s questions should be directed to the NRC – the agency overseeing the process,” NMED spokeswoman Katy Diffendorfer said in an email.

Diffendorfer also said it is still unclear what role the NMED would play in the permitting and oversight of the proposed facility.

Questions were also directed to the Department of Transportation, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department and Department of Military Affairs, which did not respond to Steinborn’s inquiries at all, he said.

Steinborn asked for details about transporting the waste through the state, safety protocol should a leak or other event occur and how the state’s oil and gas industry could be affected by the project, and other issues.

Martinez has expressed support for the project.

The facility, proposed by Holtec International, would house spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants around the country.

The NRC is considering the facility’s license, a process that could take years.