“Our land is not their pay toilet”

By John Buchser, Chapter Water chair

Thanks to citizen lobbying at the Roundhouse, 30 legislators signed on to letters objecting to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s inadequate public-comment period on a proposed dump for high-level nuclear fuel rods between Carlsbad and Hobbs.

The commission said the Legislature could comment on the full environmental-impact statement after it is released in a year or so. That makes it even more important for the public to comment during the 60-day scoping period that ends May 29.

The proposal to store spent fuel from all the nation’s nuclear reactors has many problems. One of the most critical is that of poorly designed transport casks that are too heavy for most railroads in New Mexico. Another major issue is that the proposal to “temporarily” store this radioactive waste is contrary to current law.

In April, activists toured the state with a mock radioactive-waste canister to highlight how risky the shipment and storage of the nuclear waste is.

“Our land is not the nation’s dumping ground for dangerous high-level radioactive waste, with its risks for cancer, birth defects and deaths. Those who created the waste should take responsibility for it. Our sacred land is not their pay toilet,” said Rose Gardner, a Eunice resident and founder of Alliance for Environmental Strategies.

“We ask people from New Mexico and around the country to support us in halting this dangerous plan, which not only creates risks for us at ground zero, but risks along transport routes nationwide.”

High-level radioactive waste could end up being stored for up to 120 years, according to the application. The federal government has promised and failed for more than 35 years to develop a permanent underground repository for high-level reactor wastes.

“What happens if the federal government breaks its promise to move this waste away or won’t pay to clean it up?” asked Nick King, pastor at Carlsbad Mennonite Church. “This is an ethical and moral concern that affects communities and God’s creation.”

The Holtec facility once built is estimated to employ fewer than 40 employees and 15 security forces. These numbers pale in comparison to the job-creation potential of other industries that may not have a future in the event of nuclear-waste contamination.

More than 10,000 rail cars would haul this risky waste, rumbling on rails through or near major cities in New Mexico, in a process that would take 20 years.

In the last three years, there have been seven train accidents in New Mexico, including trains derailing and/or wrecks.

Other issues with the proposal:

  • In its environmental report, Holtec states that the federal government would pay for the transportation of the waste, but current federal law allows payment only for shipments to a permanent repository, not to a private storage site such as Holtec’s.
  • Radiation risks to workers in the facility and along transport routes are underestimated.
  • Casks are welded closed. Repair processes to fix broken casks or leaking fuel have not been developed.
  • The cask bracket system to hold used fuel rods immobile is failing.
  • The excellent recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission were not followed.
  • Fracking in the Permian Basin is booming. As the fracking is causing a considerable increase in tremors, the Holtec site is no longer at low risk for seismic activity.
  • Only 60 days for the public to comment on a 600-page document is insufficient.
  • Permanent storage should be developed before any “interim” location away from reactors.
  • Holtec is overly protective of proprietary data. Too much data kept secret.

References & resources

Holtec application to NRC

Federal Register Notice

Blue Ribbon Commission report on America’s Nuclear Future

Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board – Spring meeting, 2018, Operational and Monitoring considerations for Permanently Storing Nuclear Waste, 8-hour webcast from 3/27 and related documents

Take action

Attend a hearing. Attend one of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meetings on the proposed nuclear-storage site:

  • April 30, Roswell, 4-7 pm, Eastern New Mexico University Campus Union building
  • May 1, Hobbs, 7-10 pm, Lea County Event Center
  • Carlsbad, May 3, 7-10 pm, Eddy County Fire Service

Submit comments. Comments can be submitted in person at above public meetings or online.

Comments can also be submitted by mail, with “RE: Docket ID NRC-2018-0052”, to: May Ma, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWFN–7– A60M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555– 0001.

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