SB53: Banning Storage of High-Level Nuclear Waste
UPDATE: SB53 passed the House on March 17, the last full day of the session, and was signed by the governor the same night! Congratulations and thank you to everyone who called your representatives and senators to encourage passage of this important law!

Sponsor: Sen. Steinborn

Click here to urge your representative to pass SB53

The Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced that it will soon issue a license to Holtec International for the “interim” storage in Southeast New Mexico of about 30 million nuclear fuel rods containing highly radioactive “spent” fuel, putting our communities at risk from rail transport and storage of this waste.

  • This waste should be stored in the closest, safest location to its source, especially since federal law requires identification of a permanent location for the waste before establishing an interim site. In New Mexico we have the right to define our economic future, and most importantly not harm what makes our Land of Enchantment so special. Let’s not be the nation’s toxic dumping ground.  Let’s protect our reputation as a major outdoor and cultural destination.

  • Nuclear power plants around the country have generated and stored decades’ worth of high-level nuclear waste, called “spent fuel.” The “spent” fuel is highly radioactive and requires isolation for a million years.

  • Holtec’s site would have capacity for all of the accumulated high-level nuclear waste now at reactor sites and more. The company proposes to transport this waste through 44 states by rail to southeastern New Mexico.

  • The storage is designed to be partially above ground, exposing New Mexicans to the risk of terrorist attack. New Mexico would be accepting a disproportionate risk for nuclear electricity and profits distributed elsewhere.

  • According to New Mexico officials, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not adequately evaluated the impacts of Holtec’s proposal and is ignoring opposition from Gov. Lujan Grisham, who calls the project “economic malpractice,” the All-Pueblo Council of Governors, the state Environment Department, Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, our Congressional delegation, Tribal governments, and several counties and cities.

SB53 would:

  • Ban the storage or disposal of high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico (unless preempted by federal law), just as Texas, North Dakota, and other states have done;

  • Require the consent of the state to build a high-level nuclear-waste storage or disposal site;

  • Prohibit state agencies or political subdivisions from issuing permits for the project until a federal permanent geological repository is operating, to prevent it becoming a de facto permanent site, just as Texas did in September 2021; and

  • Add key state officials to the Radioactive Waste Consultation Task Force.

The Radioactive Waste Consultation Task Force would include members from the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources, Environment, Health, Transportation, and Public Safety Departments, and the Fire Marshal as a non-voting member. Additional members would be from Homeland Security, Indian Affairs, and the Commissioner of Public Lands.

  • ISP/WSC, a storage site across the border from Eunice, NM, in Texas, already has a license. However, in September 2021, the Texas legislature passed a law against issuing state permits for building the ISP/WSC site. Now is the time for New Mexico to follow suit.

  • Federal law requires a permanent deep geologic repository to be identified before any “interim” storage operates, but no permanent site has been identified. No other states have consented to hosting such a site. Thus the “interim” storage site becomes a substitute for permanent storage, and the radioactive waste will likely be abandoned in New Mexico for a million years.

  • There is no federal funding for a temporary or permanent storage facility, nor for repairing the containers. Local communities would be responsible for paying for emergency response in the case of rail or other accidents.

Private insurance companies do not normally pay for any damage from a nuclear accident. Should a private company like HOLTEC go bankrupt, or if no permanent disposal site were created, New Mexico would likely be responsible for the radioactive waste left in the ground in corroding containers. The rail transportation routes from around the country to the site will pass through Clovis, Roswell, or Eunice, and other communities. Any railroad line could be a route, as the state has no regulatory authority over interstate transportation. Other major concerns include no defined revenue source and technological problems with the containers.


Don Hancock, Southwest Research and Information Center, sricdon@earthlink.net

John Buchser, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Nuclear Waste chair, jbuchser@comcast.net

Patricia Cardona, Southwest Alliance For A Safe Future (SAFE), patriciacardona24@yahoo.com

SB53: Banning Storage of High-Level Nuclear Waste