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Transport key concern for many opposing Holtec facility

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Wallace Taylor, attorney for the Sierra Club, speaks before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on Wednesday in Albuquerque. The hearing will continue today. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The proposed Holtec International project that would construct an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in southeast New Mexico was met with hours of testimony in opposition to the project during a Wednesday hearing.

While most of those that argued during a hearing with the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board were speaking on behalf of those who live in close proximity to the proposed site in Lea County, concerns of members of communities who live near possible transportation routes were also heard.

Attorney Terry Lodge, representing groups from states around the country, raised transportation issues as one of the main contentions against Holtec’s application to construct and operate the facility between Hobbs and Carlsbad.

“One of the most striking omissions from the application papers is this complete lack of discussion, lack of specificity about the transportation routes,” Lodge said, addressing the three-judge panel of the board. “We think it’s quite knowable, quite imputable.”

Lodge said Holtec can and should provide more specific transportation routes, as many of the routes were outlined in plans for the shelved Yucca Mountain project in Nevada.

Holtec, whose counsel will address the board as the hearing continues today, has said the vast majority of the waste transportation will be done by rail.

Lodge contended that the safety concerns of the 218 million people who live within 50 miles of possible transportation routes should be considered by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s parent agency, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Nancy Simmons, representing the Alliance for Environmental Strategies, focused her arguments on what she believes is a lack of environmental justice analysis in Holtec’s application.

“It turns out so very often that these types of sites end up in low-income, minority communities in the south and on the border,” she said. “What surprised me was there wasn’t really any kind of study of what the potential discriminatory effects may be.”

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From left, Gary Arnold, Paul Ryerson and Nicholas Trikouros, administrative judges of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, listen to contentions raised on Holtec International’s application to construct and operate an interim storage facility for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel in southeast New Mexico during a Wednesday hearing. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The proposed site would temporarily house the nation’s spent nuclear fuel until a permanent repository is built.

The hearing, which is open to the public, continues today at 9 a.m. at the State Bar of New Mexico at 5121 Masthead NE.

Today’s agenda will include contentions presented by Fasken Land and Minerals. Counsel from Holtec and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will also speak.

The ongoing hearing is intended to allow the board to determine which parties and which contentions, if any, will be considered for more extensive hearings in the future.

The three-man board asked dozens of questions of each petitioner throughout the day.

The board is expected to decide which contentions will be accepted in March. Ultimately, the board will recommend how the commission should proceed with Holtec’s application.

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