4 Investigates: Nuclear waste in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The federal government could be weeks away from giving the go-ahead to a project that would eventually bring all of the nation’s high-level waste from commercial nuclear reactors to New Mexico.

Holtec International’s Hi-Store project would sit on 1,000 acres of high desert between Carlsbad and Hobbs; sandy land that’s now covered with creosote, sage, broken glass and beer cans that have long since had the labels cooked off by the sun.

Urged on by a cadre of local officials who banded together to form the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance, the company has applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to operate what’s officially called a consolidated interim storage facility. 

500 stainless steel canisters at a time, spent uranium fuel rods would be lowered about two stories down into the Earth where they would theoretically spend 40 years cooling in interim storage until they could be transferred to a permanent disposal site.

The problem is that the United States has no such permanent site for nuclear waste. It scrapped plans for Nevada’s Yucca Mountain in 2010 and no alternate sites are in the works.

While Holtec and its partners promise scrupulous safety protocols and gold-standard technology would safeguard the spent fuel, others worry the interim facility would become the country’s only permanent option, subjecting New Mexico to decades of nuclear waste transports from all directions rumbling along train tracks across the state.

Watch the video above for more.