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NM senators oppose interim nuclear disposal

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John Heaton, chair of the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance, announces an agreement with Holtec International to build a temporary storage site in southeastern New Mexico for spent nuclear fuel during a news conference at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque N.M., on Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Officials said Holtec plans to file an application with federal regulators within a year. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s U.S. senators, Democrats Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, released statements on Thursday opposing a proposal to build an “interim” storage site in southeastern New Mexico for spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants in the U.S.

Both senators said that any proposal for an interim depository should not be considered until there is a permanent solution to disposal of the nation’s nuclear waste.

“We can’t put the cart before the horse,” Heinrich said. “I cannot support establishing an interim storage facility until we are sure that there will be a path forward to permanent disposal. There must be an open and transparent process that allows for input on what’s best for our entire state.”

Holtec International Inc. — a global firm that makes storage canisters for spent nuclear fuel — announced on Wednesday that it will seek a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct a 32-acre interim storage site about halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs. The project is supported by the Eddy-Lea County Energy Alliance, which includes the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs and both county governments.

The storage site would be located about 12 miles north of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a permanent repository near Carlsbad that opened in 1999 for low-level nuclear waste from federal facilities. WIPP has been closed since last year, however, after radiation leaked from canisters stored there.

Udall said new projects, whether interim or not, shouldn’t even be considered until the WIPP accident is fully resolved.

“I don’t think we should be talking about this at all while the state and the Department of Energy are still addressing the serious accident and radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” Udall said. “I have helped secure hundreds of millions in vital funding for WIPP for many years, and my focus now is ensuring WIPP can reopen safely and the workers are protected.”

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