Opposed by Texas, border nuke site still gets NRC permit

By John Buchser, Nuclear Waste Issues Chair

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved the WCS/ISP high-level “temporary” storage for used fuel rods from commercial nuclear reactors. These fuel cores remain extremely radioactive for a million years.  This site is 5 miles from Eunice, NM, the largest nearby city.  In Texas, the legislature quickly passed a bill banning this proposal, concurring with Gov. Greg Abbott’s objections to this risky proposal. The oil and gas operations in the Permian Basin are at risk of permanent shutdown if a substantial accident occurs, and Gov. Abbott realizes this risk.

Out of concern for the safety of New Mexicans, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has taken a strong position in opposition to the WCS/ISP storage and the Holtec proposal for a site near Carlsbad, as has state Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn has attempted for years to craft a bill to provide greater oversight of such sites. A stronger proposal is needed, and we appreciate the senator’s work to fight these “temporary” storage sites.

Now that Texas is placing further roadblocks on the WCS/ISP proposal, our hopes are that the New Mexico Legislature will similarly put many barriers in place. Although federal law requires the creation of a permanent facility, there is not yet adequate technology nor political support for the work needed to permanently store this very radioactive waste. New Mexico faces the prospect of this waste being stranded here, with the casks and cladding holding the uranium fuel pellets degrading over time.

We have been fortunate this year to have Attorney General Hector Balderas join in with legal objections to Holtec’s proposal. The Rio Grande Chapter also has legal challenges to both projects. Now is the time for New Mexico to place as many additional barriers in place as we can possibly think of.  Why should the City of Eunice give some of their water to a facility that may ultimately force them from their homes?

In 2006, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a license for a similar facility in Utah.  The Skull Valley Goshute tribe (led by Margene Bullcreek and Sammy Blackbear), the State of Utah, and the Utah congressional delegation all fought this facility.  It has not yet been built.

We hope Gov. Lujan Grisham will provide a strong budget to our Environment Department, Transportation Department, and other state agencies to fund the fight. The legislature needs to support the needed resources to fight these dangerous proposals and to enact a prohibition on such projects, as other states have done.

What’s next: New Mexico Sen. Jeff Steinborn is looking at ways to protect southeaast New Mexico from the risks of Holtec’s high-level radioactive waste, perhaps with legislation in the January 2022 session. Write to luis.guerrero@sierraclub.org to get on our listserv for legislative updates and actions.

Featured image: concept illustration for Application for a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility for Spent Nuclear Fuel by Holtec Internationals, from NRC application documents

Opposed by Texas, border nuke site still gets NRC permit
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