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Editorial: NRC is right to put science before politics

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s recommendation last week to issue a nuclear waste storage license in southeast New Mexico is a major regulatory milestone for those tired of kicking America’s radiation canister down the road, and bad news for those who have a knee-jerk opposition to nuclear power.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham emboldened Santa Fe-based opposition to the Holtec International facility last year, citing concerns about the environment and the impact that storing spent nuclear fuel could have on the oil and gas industry in the Permian Basin.

In a July 2019 letter sent to the U.S. Secretary of Energy and chairwoman of the NRC, the Democratic governor said it would be “economic malpractice” to open such a site in an oil-rich region that’s also home to agricultural operations.

However, the NRC on March 10 released a draft environmental impact statement saying “oil and gas exploration could coexist with Holtec’s proposed project.” The document says Holtec’s impacts on land, industry and public health would be minimal.

Southeast New Mexico leaders say the Holtec project will be safe and good for the local economy, which currently is far too dependent on the boom and bust of oil. An alliance between the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs and Eddy and Lea counties purchased 1,000 acres of cattle grazing land on the western edge of Lea County for the project, 35 miles from the nearest population.

Southeast New Mexico is home to nuclear expertise with the WIPP storage facility and the $4 billion Urenco USA uranium enrichment plant. But leaders in Santa Fe continue to demonstrate that nuclear energy is not part of their energy portfolio, preferring instead to kick the radiation canister down the road.

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.