“This is our chance to … send a very strong message to the federal government that New Mexico does not consent to this project,” says state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, who is carrying a bill to strangle a temporary nuclear storage facility in Southeast New Mexico.
But who does Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, mean by “New Mexico?” Certainly not Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb, a fellow Democrat, who supports Holtec International’s plans to build a $2.4 billion interim nuclear waste storage facility between Carlsbad and Hobbs.
Not Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway, who warned in a recent Journal guest column Steinborn’s bill would “undo years of careful study and evaluation.”
Not the Eddy and Lea county commissions, Carlsbad City Council or Hobbs City Commission, who formed the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance and bought a thousand acres of remote cattle grazing land for the project.
Steinborn’s Senate Bill 54 seeks to kill the project by holding back permits for such things as industrial wastewater. So would House Bill 127. Meanwhile, Holtec representatives say they expect the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to issue a facility license in the coming months. The state has sued the NRC saying it is rushing the project.
A Blue Ribbon Commission under President Barack Obama released a report a decade ago saying the nation had an urgent need to construct a consolidated geological repository for nuclear waste after funding for the $15 billion Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository dried up in the face of political opposition. Similar opposition to Holtec also isn’t grounded in science but in politics that fail to see the bridge nuclear power offers to clean energy, the expertise in communities like Southeast New Mexico’s and the public safety need for both projects.
Currently, there is nowhere to transfer more than 70,000 metric tons of used reactor fuel from power plants in 73 different sites across 39 states, some next to rivers or atop water tables.
Holtec opponents raise the legitimate question of how long is “interim” and deserve an answer. Under the site licensing, the multilayer storage canisters are certified to last 40 years, can be renewed for another 40 years and will be evaluated for aging. Overall, they are to last 200-300 years.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says the project would jeopardize the oil and gas industry and agricultural operations. But NRC scientists in charge of ensuring the safe use of radioactive materials said in a draft environmental impact statement that Holtec’s impacts on land and water, industry and public health would be minimal.
As Janway points out, the region’s “nuclear triangle” has a high level of expertise and experience supporting this industry — from the U.S. Department of Energy’s $19 billion Waste Isolation Pilot Plant southeast of Carlsbad to the $4 billion Urenco USA uranium enrichment plant east of Eunice to the planned spent-fuel storage facility run by Waste Control Specialists and French firm AREVA Inc. just across the Texas line. “We would not have invited Holtec to southeast New Mexico if we believed otherwise,” he wrote.
It’s time to quit kicking this 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.