New Mexico sues US over proposed nuclear waste storage plans

New Mexico sues US over proposed nuclear waste storage plans

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- New Mexico resisted the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Monday over concerns that the federal agency has not done enough to vet plans to get a multibillion-dollar facility to store spent nuclear fuel in the nation, arguing that the job would endanger taxpayers, the environment along with the economy.

New Jersey-based Holtec International wants to construct a complex in southeastern New Mexico where tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants across the nation could be stored until the federal government discovers a permanent solution. State officials worry that New Mexico is now a permanent dumping ground for its radioactive substance.

The complaint filed in federal court asserts that the commission overstepped its authority regarding Holtec's plans and granting a license to the company could lead to"imminent and significant endangerment" to New Mexico. The state cited the potential for surface and groundwater contamination, disruption of gas and oil development in among the nation's most effective basins and extra strain on crisis response resources.

The country also raised concerns about a similar job planned just across the state line in West Texas.

New Mexico has accused the commission of colluding with Holtec in"rubber-stamping" the proposition. The state argues that almost every interested party that has filed a struggle was denied standing and also an opportunity to meaningfully participate.

"The NRC's mandate does not include policy setting or changing the general debate and emphatically cheerleading nuclear industry projects. Nevertheless it is doing to the detriment of New Mexico," the complaint says.

The atomic commission didn't respond to queries regarding New Mexico's criticism. However, it issued an order that denied appeals from several groups with arguments like the state's. The commission has held public hearings throughout the licensing procedure and an environmental review was done.

It advised Holtec last week that the final safety evaluation report would be delayed because the firm provided inadequate answers in a number of technical areas, including soil settlement and an investigation of flooding and aircraft crash hazards.

Holtec is seeking a 40-year permit to build what it has described as a state-of-the-art complex near Carlsbad, which already is home to the national government's sole underground repository for Cold War-era waste generated by years of nuclear research and bomb-making.

Holtec executives have said the storage project is required because the U.S. has yet to find a permanent solution for dealing with the tons of spent fuel building up in commercial nuclear power plants.

According to the U.S. Energy Department, atomic reactors throughout the country produce over 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste a year, with the majority of it remaining on-site because there's nowhere else to put it.

In all, there's approximately 83,000 metric tons of spent fuel sitting in temporary storage sites in almost three dozen countries. The gas is enclosed in steel-lined concrete pools of water or in steel and concrete containers called casks.

The first phase of the proposed New Mexico job involves storing around 8,680 metric tons of uranium, which would be packed into 500 canisters. Future expansion could make room for as many as 10,000 canisters of spent nuclear fuel over 6 years.

New Mexico's complaint highlights a legal quandary for the national government. Both license applications call for the Energy Department to take ownership of their spent fuel at a future date and then contract with the developers of their facilities to keep it until a permanent repository becomes available. However, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act does not allow the Energy Department to take possession until a permanent repository is set up.

"It is fundamentally unfair for our residents to bear the dangers of open ended doubt," New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement.

Holtec has stated the website from New Mexico -- about 35 miles (56 km ) from Carlsbad -- is distant and geologically stable.

Despite resistance from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and many others in the nation, elected leaders in southeastern New Mexico support the job, saying it would bring jobs and revenue to the area and provide a temporary option for handling the gas.

The state first objected to national regulators' preliminary recommendation that a license be allowed to Holtec in comments submitted to the commission last fall. Aside from New Mexico's other concerns, state officials also have said regulators failed to consider environmental justice issues and have fallen short of other conditions spelled out by national environmental laws.

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