New Mexico State Land Office: Holtec mislead federal government on nuclear waste site near Carlsbad

New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard voiced her opposition and described “serious safety concerns” regarding a proposed nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad and Hobbs.

She sent a letter to Holtec International President and Chief Executive Officer Krishna Singh on Wednesday, per a State Land Office news release, describing her concerns and alleging the company misrepresented the project before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as Holtec seeks a federal license for the facility.

Holtec did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The proposed facility would temporarily hold spent nuclear fuel rods — up to 120,000 metric tons — on a 1,000-acre property near the Eddy-Lea county line.

The facility would hold the spent nuclear fuel about 40 feet underground, in large steel casks, moving them away from generator sites which supporters said are dangerously close to large bodies of water or highly-populated areas.

While the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA), a joint venture between numerous local organizations that has led the project, owns the surface rights, Garcia Richard said the New Mexico State Land Office owns the mineral estate beneath the surface.

ELEA Chair John Heaton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Up to 2,500 oil, gas and mineral wells or sites are operated in the area by 54 businesses within a 10-mile radius of the site, Garcia Richard said, and she worried a nuclear waste facility in the area could disrupt operations.

She said Holtec “falsely” said it secured agreements with nearby oil and gas operators to restrict extraction operations near the proposed site and assured the NRC that oil and gas drilling would only occur at depths greater than 5,000 feet.

Garcia Richard said no such agreements exist for the mineral estate owned by the Land Office, except for one with Intrepid Mining that had yet to be approved.

She accused Holtec of making misleading statements on the matter in submissions to the NRC including its environmental reports.

“This is not the right site for high-level nuclear storage. Holtec has only provided bits and pieces of information, and what they have provided has been incomplete and at times misleading,” Garcia Richard said.

“We are talking about storing over 120,000 metric tons of nuclear waste in an extremely active oil field without a clear picture of the potential hazards of that combination.”

She questioned any contention that hydraulic fracturing can occur safely beneath a nuclear storage site, or that the waste can be safely transported through New Mexico.

“I’m not aware of any studies demonstrating the safety of fracking beneath a nuclear storage site,” Garcia Richard said. “There is no guarantee that high-level nuclear waste can be safely transported to and through New Mexico.

“There is no guarantee that there won’t be a hazardous interaction between the storage site and nearby oil, gas, and mining activities.”

Without a permanent disposal facility for high-level nuclear waste, Garcia Richard also worried if the site could become permanent

“There is no guarantee that this site will truly be ‘interim’ and won’t become the permanent dumping ground for our nation’s nuclear waste,” she said. “I understand that we need to find a storage solution, but not in the middle of an active oil field, not from a company that is misrepresenting facts and unwilling to answer questions, not on our state trust lands.”

This story will be updated.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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©2019 the Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, N.M.)

Visit the Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, N.M.) at www.currentargus.com

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