KUNM

Nuclear Waste Storage Proposal Faces Stiff Opposition

May 24, 2018

A Florida-based energy company faced heavy opposition Tuesday night from Albuquerque locals who are against a proposal to store spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants at a facility near Carlsbad.

Over a hundred people filled a hotel meeting room to speak out against Holtec International’s plan. The meeting, hosted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, lasted about four and half hours with dozens of people and several advocacy groups voicing their distrust of the company.

“People in New Mexico do not want this nuclear waste dump put here in our state,” said Cecilia Chavez Beltran. She lives in Albuquerque and she’s been following the issue. Her main concern, she said, is that there’s not enough information on the moving the waste safely throughout the state.

“Because they’re going to be transporting this waste from all the way from different parts of the country and bring it over here to New Mexico,” she said, “so, obviously it’s going to be going near a lot of communities and cities that might not even be aware of this.”

Leona Morgan said as an indigenous person, she sees the project as an example of environmental racism. It directly affects people of color and low-income people and it’s not fair, she said, that the state’s most vulnerable populations should be have to live with the waste facility. 

“Just because people want to get rid of the waste where it’s at, doesn’t mean it’s okay to bring the waste here and to put everyone in danger along the way,” she said.

The U.S. currently doesn’t have a permanent storage facility for spent nuclear fuel from power plants. Holtec plans on shipping it to New Mexico by rail but they haven’t chosen specific routes, yet, because it’s too early in the process.

Meanwhile, the Albuquerque City Council passed a memorial on Monday demonstrating their opposition to the transportation of high-level radioactive waste by rail.

Holtec touts the “enthusiastic support of nuclear-savvy communities in southeastern New Mexico.”

Leona Morgan said she did not consent. “The railroad just also happens to pass by two of our sacred mountains so the transport impacts to cultural resources is one of my main concerns.”

David McIntyre, with the NRC, said the meeting is part of the environmental review of Holtec’s application.

“Things like, there’s a sinkhole in Carlsbad, or there’s a holy sight for some community nearby, or anything like that, that might be affected, we want to know about it,” he said.

The review is just one part of a three-part application process that will play out over the next couple of years, McIntyre said. The NRC will publish the statements from the meeting within the next few months and use the comments to define the scoping of the environmental report. The agency will consider the comments and explain how the project would address environmental concerns, McIntyre said.

Over 50 people, including scientists, teachers, and healthcare providers added their comments at the meeting. Ed Mayer, of Holtec International, said there were a lot of misconceptions about the project, but he wouldn’t go into detail.

“There were more than a few and it’s probably not something that’s worth going over right now, but there were many,” he said after the meeting, “that’s part of the education process that we want to go through.”

Hotlec is still working on how they’ll educate the public about their project and Mayer said he understands people’s concerns. He said transporting spent nuclear fuel is already commonplace around the country and safety is a priority.

“I think the more they know about it the more they’ll understand that our technology’s safe, the transportation of spent nuclear fuel is safe,” Mayer said.

New Mexico has a long history of nuclear contamination: unclaimed uranium mines, nuclear bomb test sites, and mismanagement of nuclear waste at federal labs. It’s unclear how Holtec might win over people who have more than just an educated guess about what could go wrong.

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This week’s meeting was the last public meeting with the NRC and Holtec International. People can submit comments online until July 30, 2018.