After the strong watchdog roles the Gov. Bill Richardson administration and Sen. Jeff Bingaman took in the early 2000s to ensure New Mexico had sufficient oversight of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, it is disheartening the state’s current leadership seems reluctant, if not unwilling, to pick up that mantle for the safety of our 2-million-plus residents.
But that’s the impression left after Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces and chair of the Legislature’s Committee on Radioactive and Hazardous Materials, got one sketchy response to nearly 60 questions on the proposed Holtec interim storage site for spent nuclear fuel near Carlsbad and Hobbs.
Steinborn says he sent his questions seeking details about transporting the waste, safety protocols and how the oil and gas industry could be affected to state departments in April.
Only the New Mexico Environment Department replied. And it says it’s not its job. A spokeswoman says “the senator’s questions should be directed to the (federal) Nuclear Regulatory Commission – the agency overseeing the process.”
OK, but back in 2004, N.M. leaders pushed the federal Department of Energy to re-establish an office under NMED in Carlsbad to oversee operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. While the state has authority over hazardous, not radioactive, waste, the DOE Oversight Bureau was set up to provide “oversight and monitoring” and had staff capable of oversight of radiation issues.
As the NRC continues to vet the Holtec project, one Gov. Susana Martinez has supported, her administration would do well to take a page from NMED’s past and apply it to the future. Our 2-million-plus residents deserve straight answers and the safest project possible.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.