The leader of the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council has written a letter to President Trump in support of Holtec International’s plans for a nuclear waste storage facility in southeast New Mexico.
C.H. Albright Jr., who was an undersecretary of the Energy Department under President George W. Bush, wrote as a rebuttal to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s letter to Trump on July 28.
Lujan Grisham said the project would pose a risk to communities and industries.
The $230 million facility would store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel in 500 stainless steel containers on 1,000 acres between Carlsbad and Hobbs, with a full build-out of 10,000 canisters.
Albright urged the federal government to consider the project in light of the country’s “outstanding safety record” for operating nuclear facilities and shipping nuclear waste.
“Any objective evaluation of the history of handling and transportation of nuclear material demonstrates a sterling record of safety,” Albright wrote.
He cited safety at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, which in 2017 marked 12,000 incident-free shipments of transuranic waste.
Lujan Grisham took issue with the lack of a permanent storage site for the waste.
Albright echoed that concern in part, encouraging the government to finalize the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada.
“USNIC believes that making progress on the backend of the nuclear fuel cycle is an important and urgent priority in terms of revitalizing the U.S. nuclear industry,” Albright wrote.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s draft environmental impact statement for the project concludes that impacts on land, industry and public health would be minimal. The NRC recommended Holtec receive a license to build the facility.
The agency heard public comments about the project during a virtual meeting Thursday.
Petuuche Gilbert of the Laguna-Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment said railroad lines are already in need of repair along what would become the transportation route for the waste.
“There are 12 miles of railroad that crosses through Acoma lands,” Gilbert said. “We have lived here for over 1,000 years … our communities along the way will be affected if there’s any kind of accident.”
Several commenters said the virtual meetings exclude New Mexicans who lack reliable internet or phone service, and asked that the licensing process be paused until in-person meetings can resume safely.
“Nobody’s looking out for my community,” said Rose Gardner, who lives in Eunice, about 30 miles from the project site. “Holtec has never come to Eunice to speak to the people in the community. There’s no reason why this project has to continue at the rate it’s going. I’m not getting the public meeting that I was promised.”