US regulators grant more time to consider nuclear fuel plan
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The public will have more time to comment on an environmental review related to a proposed multibillion-dollar complex in New Mexico that would store spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants around the U.S.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently granted a request by members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, providing another 60 days for the process. The delegation had argued for more time and a delay of any public meetings given the health emergency that has resulted from the coronavirus outbreak.
The delegation said in a statement that full public participation is particularly important for projects involving nuclear waste.
“Any proposal to store commercial spent nuclear fuel raises a number of health, safety and environmental issues, including potential impacts on local agriculture and industry, issues related to the transportation of nuclear waste, and disproportionate impacts on Native American communities,” they said.
The commission plans to hold a nationwide webinar and five public meetings in New Mexico during the revised public comment period.
Commission Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki said in a recent letter to the delegation that as the health emergency evolves, staff will continue to re-evaluate plans for public participation and will consider whether additional extensions are warranted.
In a preliminary recommendation, the commission favors approval of a license for Holtec International to build the facility in southeastern New Mexico.
The New Jersey-based company is seeking a 40-year license to build what it has described as a state-of-the-art complex near Carlsbad. The first phase calls for storing up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, which would be packed into 500 canisters. Future expansion could make room for as many as 10,000 canisters of spent nuclear fuel.
Holtec has said the U.S. currently has more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel in storage at dozens of sites around the country and the inventory is growing at a rate of about 2,000 metric tons a year.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other elected officials are among those with concerns about the potential environmental effects and the prospects of New Mexico becoming a permanent dumping ground for spent nuclear fuel. They point to the lack of a permanent plan by the federal government for dealing with the waste piling up at power plants around the country.
The governor and others also have questions about whether the facility would compromise oil and gas development in the Permian Basin, one of the world’s most prolific energy production regions.
The NRC staff’s preliminary recommendation states there are no environmental impacts that would preclude the commission from issuing a license for environmental reasons.