NRC Public Meetings to Bring High-Level Waste to New Mexico

Last Friday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) opened a 60-day public comment period for a proposal to store 8,680 metric tons, or 500 canisters, of spent plutonium fuel generated by commercial nuclear reactors from across the country to a site halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs in southeastern New Mexico.  The federal agency is asking for public comments about the “scope” of an environmental impact statement they will be preparing, based upon an application submitted last year by Holtec International.  At the end of an estimated three-year process, Holtec, a privately held corporation, is anticipating the NRC to issue it a 40-year license, and it anticipates extensions for up to 120 years.

The first phase would consist of storing 500 canisters.  But there is more.  Over 20 years, Holtec is proposing 19 expansion phases, for a total of approximately 10,000 canisters, or about 100,000 metric tons.  About 80,000 metric tons of waste currently exists at nuclear reactors.  The proposal is to bring all of the existing high-level waste to New Mexico, as well as waste still being generated at nuclear power plants.

Scoping comments will be accepted for 60 days, or until Tuesday, May 29, 2018.  A sample public comment letter, prepared by colleagues at Nuclear Watch New Mexico, is available for you to use at   Holtec Sample Public Comment 4-4-18

The NRC will be hosting four evening events so that you can learn more about the Holtec proposal.  They will be holding a webinar and hosting three open houses in Southeast New Mexico.  Please mark your calendars.

On Wednesday, April 25th, the NRC will host a webinar for public comments from 5 to 7 pm Mountain Time.

On Monday, April 30th, NRC will host an open house in Roswell from 4 to 7 pm at Eastern New Mexico University, 48 University Blvd., Campus Union Building, Room 110.  A court reporter will be available so that public comments can be made on the record.

On Tuesday, May 1st, an open house will be held in Hobbs from 6 to 7 pm at the Lea County Event Center, 5101 North Lovington Highway.  From 7 to 10 pm, public comments about the scope of the environmental impact statement will be heard by the NRC and the court reporter.

On Thursday, May 3rd, another open house will be held in Carlsbad from 6 to 7 pm at the Eddy County Fire Service, 1400 Commerce Street.  From 7 to 10 pm, the NRC and a court reporter will hear public comments about the scope of the environmental impact statement.

Rose Gardner, of the Alliance for Environmental Strategies, based in Southeast New Mexico, said, ” Holtec wants a license to bring High-level radioactive waste to Southeast New Mexico. This waste is so dangerous that the reactor communities that produced and benefited from the electricity they used no longer want to store it. We must let the NRC and Holtec know that we don’t want it and we refuse to accept this de facto permanent storage. It is an environmental injustice to promote Southeast New Mexico as a willing participant in their schemes to dump on a predominantly Hispanic and minority area, such as where we live.”


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  • The idea that the nuclear high-level waste will remain in New Mexico for “only” 120 years is absurd. The thin-walled canisters (maximum wall thickness is about 5/8ths of an inch) will be so weakened from the extremely high levels of radiation (and from normal corrosion effects) by then that moving them at all will be extremely risky (it already is very risky to move them!). And there STILL will undoubtedly be no permanent repository (Yucca Mountain was already a “last resort” but had numerous unsolvable technical problems). The canisters are only guaranteed by the manufacturer to last 20 years, and many of them are already approaching that age. If they’re so safe, why aren’t they guaranteed for longer? Furthermore, opening this repository is legally impossible under current government regulations and the most significant change, from the point of view of the utilities that produced the waste, is they want to be released from ALL liability for the waste the instant it leaves their property — so transportation accidents will be paid for by the victims, as will any accidents at the “interim” storage site. The private corporation that will manage the facility won’t take on any of the liability either, as if they could afford to pay for an accident anyway. But worst of all is that IF this site opens up, reactors all around the country will be getting a green light to continue making MORE nuclear waste, which is about 10 million times more toxic than unused (“fresh”) nuclear fuel, even the “enriched” kind (which most reactors now use). Spent fuel is surely the most dangerous substance humans have ever created. Most of New Mexico would have to be abandoned if there is a spent fuel fire, a terrorist attack, an airplane strike (intentional or accidental), or any of a thousand other “beyond design basis” accidents (that’s the NRC’s technical term for stuff they don’t/can’t protect against).

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