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A bill aimed at banning storage of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste in New Mexico has reignited debate over Holtec International’s plans for an interim nuclear waste storage facility between Carlsbad and Hobbs.
Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, cleared the Senate Conservation Committee 5-3 on Tuesday, with no recommendation.
The U.S. does not have a permanent storage site for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel.
“This is our chance to … send a very strong message to the federal government that New Mexico does not consent to this project,” Steinborn said.
Holtec representatives said Tuesday that the company expects a facility license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the next few months.
“The transport and storage is safe against any natural disaster, whether it be an earthquake or a tornado, and it’s safe against manmade disasters like terrorist events,” said Ed Mayer, Holtec program director.
A draft NRC analysis reports that the project would have minimal impacts on land and water, industry and public health.
But, even with NRC approval, New Mexico could not issue Holtec permits for such things as industrial wastewater if the bill passes.
“With a license in hand, then we would work with the state and take the next step,” Mayer said. “That’s a company decision that will have to be made.”
Holtec is planning an initial $230 million facility to store spent nuclear fuel in 500 stainless-steel canisters.
The company would ship waste by rail from nuclear power plants to the 1,000-acre New Mexico site.
A full buildout would cost $2.4 billion and store up to 10,000 canisters.
New Mexico has sued the NRC over the facility. The lawsuit alleges the agency is rushing a project that the state says would jeopardize both the economy and the environment.
Texas is also opposed to an interim storage facility in that state.
Sarah Cottrell Propst, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department secretary, said there is no funding to help New Mexico ensure safe transport.
“Interim in this case effectively means permanent,” Cottrell Propst said. “We have great concern about that public safety component of any private waste moving through the state to a facility.”
Southeast New Mexico’s elected officials tout the project as an economic boon.
Holtec says the site could employ 325 people for construction, security and manufacturing.
The company has promised a regional job training center, which could diversify the area’s energy economy, said Lea County Commissioner Jonathan Sena.
“I want safe, good jobs for my kids and for other young families, other minority families like mine,” Sena said.
The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.