Nuclear waste storage project in New Mexico draws criticism

May 23, 2018 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A plan to temporarily store spent fuel from U.S. commercial nuclear reactors at a site in southeastern New Mexico is drawing opposition from critics who say the risks are too great.

Dozens of people spoke out against the proposal to build the below-ground storage space in Lea County, about 250 miles (402 kilometers) southeast of Albuquerque, during a meeting with federal regulators on Tuesday.

Opponents of the project have expressed concern about the safety of transporting the fuel across the country as well as the project’s effects on the environment.


Holtec International has applied for a 40-year license with Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store thousands of metric tons of nuclear waste at the site.

The facility would generate about 100 temporary jobs and about 100 permanent positions, Holtec executives said. They said they have confidence in the technology involved in transporting and storing the spent nuclear fuel.

The spent nuclear fuel would be packaged with “triple redundancies on any possible materials getting out,” Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance Chairman John Heaton told the Santa Fe New Mexican. A coalition of southeastern New Mexico municipalities has partnered with Holtec to bring the project forward.

The waste would be stored in zirconium rods, which would be packaged in stainless steel canisters. The canisters would then be secured in concrete casks for transportation.

Holtec project director Ed Mayer told the Albuquerque Journal that people seem to believe that the facility will be there forever. The project intends to be there for decades, he said.

The company hopes to begin construction in 2020 should the license be approved, Mayer said. The first shipment of spent nuclear fuel would then arrive in 2023.

The Albuquerque meeting Tuesday was the fifth held in recent weeks at locations across the state.