Amid New Mexico’s legacy pollution story, Holtec tells lawmakers nuclear storage proposal is safe and secure


Officials of the company that wants to temporarily store the spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico are working to assure lawmakers that it would be both safe and secure.

Holtec International project director Ed Mayer presented nuclear fuel storage plans to the science, technology and telecommunications committee at its meeting in Hobbs on Thursday.

His presentation comes as New Mexico fights the company’s proposal. During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers introduced a bill to ban the storage of used nuclear fuel in New Mexico. Although the bill went through two committees, the House ultimately did not pass the proposal.

Related: Bill banning used nuclear fuel storage in New Mexico passes committee

Although the bill did not pass this year, the disposal of spent nuclear fuel will likely be debated again in next year’s session.

In July, after the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced its intention to issue a license to Holtec to build and operate the facility, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham asked the Legislature to “introduce a proposal to my office that prevents New Mexico from becoming the de facto home of the country’s used nuclear fuel and he will have my full support. »

Opponents point to the risks surrounding radioactive materials as well as New Mexico’s history of pollution and environmental racism.

New Mexico also filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in an attempt to block the Holtec facility.

Related: New Mexico sues, says interim nuclear storage facility could put environment and economy at risk

Mayer told lawmakers there was very little risk during transport and that the containers that hold the waste are strong enough to withstand a plane crashing into them.

The plan calls for spent nuclear waste from out-of-state power plants to be transported by rail to a facility in Lea and Eddy counties in New Mexico until a repository can be created to store in permanently spent nuclear fuel.

Asked about concerns that Holtech could become a permanent storage location, Mayer said it was only allowed for temporary storage, which he described as decades. At the same time, he said that the canisters without any maintenance can last two hundred to three hundred years.

He said once people accept that the project is both safe and secure, they can start discussions about the economic benefits – including billions of dollars of investment and hundreds of new jobs – that the project will bring.

Related: ‘Forever deadly’: State officials and communities scramble to fight proposal to house high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico

State Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said he was not opposed to nuclear power and thought it would be an important tool to decarbonize the energy sector, but asked Mayer on bonds to cover the risks.

This was one of the concerns that bands like the Sierra Club raised against Holtec’s proposal.

Mayer said there was a very small chance – one in a billion – of a nuclear waste release and if it did happen it would have a low impact.

He described a federal law setting aside funds for cleanup and state funding to train first responders.

Mayer then spoke about the funding that will be set aside for dismantling when operations end.

Mayer said Holtec has liability insurance for the facility, which he says represents $100 million in liability insurance for the operations of the facility.

Mayer’s answers did not completely allay Soule’s concerns. Soules spoke of abandoned uranium mines in the Gallup area and the Carlsbad brine well whose operator filed for bankruptcy and “left.” Soules said that in these cases, the cleanup of sites falls on the public to foot the bill. In the case of brine wellNew Mexico has invested more than $80 million in remediation.

Soules said the bonds guarantee the facility will be cleaned up if the company goes bankrupt.

“We have a long history of legacy issues with the industry,” he said.

Mayer said Holtec took into consideration that the company could go bankrupt and created a fund for two years of operation of the facility if that happened. He said Holtec is not the only company that can do the proposed storage and that one of the competitors could step in and operate the facility if Holtec goes out of business.


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