Company defends plans for nuclear waste storage facility
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Jersey-based company on Thursday defended plans to build a multibillion-dollar facility in the New Mexico desert to store spent fuel from commercial reactors around the United States, citing long-standing yet unmet obligations by the federal government to find a permanent solution for dealing with the tons of waste building up at the nation’s nuclear power plants.
The project proposed by Holtec International would allow for spent fuel rods to be transferred from dozens of sites around the country to a more secure temporary home in southeastern New Mexico, said Jay Silberg, an attorney representing the company.
“We believe that this is an extremely important facility for this nation,” Silberg told members of a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel during the second day of a public meeting in Albuquerque.
It will be up to the panel to decide which environmental and nuclear watchdog groups have standing to intervene in the case and which objections they can pursue as federal regulators weigh whether to grant a license to Holtec.
Reams of documents have already been submitted to the commission, and the overall process is expected to be lengthy.
A Texas-based company also has applied for a license to expand its existing hazardous waste facility in Andrews County to include an area where spent fuel could be temporarily stored.
Opponents have raised concerns about the legality of the project, the safety of transporting the high-level waste across the country and the potential exposure and water and soil contamination if something were to go wrong along the way or at the site once the material was delivered.
Attorneys for the Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear and other groups also are worried that risks could escalate if Holtec is allowed to reject and return damaged, leaking or contaminated casks that are transported to New Mexico.
The attorneys also focused on the proposed location, which is more than 30 miles from the nearest city but still in the heart of a congested region that’s experiencing a major oil and gas boom.
Holtec experts testified that there’s no evidence of land caving in at the site, that earthquakes are not believed to be a credible threat and that while it would not be able to repackage the waste if a container is damaged, it would be able to “take steps” to remedy problems that might arise.
Carlsbad City Councilor Jason Shirley told the panel that his community supports the project, saying it would result in more jobs and local tax revenue.
Holtec also touted a letter from former New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who wrote to the U.S. Energy Department in 2008 in support of an interim storage project in southern New Mexico. Martinez finished her second and final term in December.
Her successor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, said through a spokesman Thursday that the health and public safety of New Mexicans should come first as federal regulators review the proposal.
The governor also wants to ensure New Mexicans’ concerns are substantively included in the record, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.
During her last year in Congress, Lujan Grisham opposed changes to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the possible development of a temporary storage facility in the state, saying she was concerned about creating loopholes in federal law that could result in the waste being permanently stranded in New Mexico.