Holtec granted license for nuclear waste facility in southern NM

The federal government issued a license Tuesday for a high-level nuclear waste facility in southern New Mexico. Just a couple of months ago, state lawmakers passed – and the governor signed – a bill that prohibits such a project from moving ahead.

So what’s next?

The federal government can license a facility no matter what New Mexico laws say. Does that mean it will get built? Not at all.

New Mexico law doesn’t just oppose the plan, it blocks state agencies from issuing permits for nuclear waste storage.

In Texas, the feds licensed a facility that’s yet to be built and is mired in lawsuits. That’s where Holtec’s HI-STORE facility is headed.

Eddy and Lea counties, along with Hobbs and Carlsbad city councils, formed a group to bring Holtec to New Mexico. They have pushed hard for it but whether they are keen to join a lawsuit is up in the air.

The Eddy County Commission just voted unanimously to stay out and to order their representatives in that group to vote to stay out of a suit by the company against the state.

Carlsbad voted to tell their representatives in the group to say yes to joining a suit.

HI-STORE is halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs, just over the Lea County line. The license is for 500 casks of spent nuclear fuel – imagine uranium rods in huge steel casks – for 40 years.

The site can hold 10,000 casks as it’s planned, but each 500 canisters would be a new phase and need an amendment to the license.

Holtec is celebrating the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision and touting the project as well-engineered and safe.

Environmental groups, some residents, and lawmakers say the project is too risky to go forward – specifically getting the nuclear waste to the site by rail through New Mexico.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Attorney General Raúl Torrez issued the following statement following the decision:

This decision by the NRC – which has been made despite the grave concerns of the state and the legislature over the project’s potential impacts to health, safety and the economy – is incredibly disappointing. It also undermines the NRC’s alleged commitment to meaningful engagement with stakeholders, as it appears our concerns were wholly ignored and went unaddressed by Holtec and the NRC.

We will not stop our fight to protect New Mexico from becoming a nuclear dumping ground. Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed and the governor signed Senate Bill 53, which will impose new, more robust state licensing requirements for this project before any construction may begin. In the meantime, we are evaluating available legal recourse and will take any action necessary to make sure that ground is never broken on this ‘interim’ facility in New Mexico.”