|Leona Morgan, Dineh
Growing Concern about high-level radioactive-waste dump yields additional public meetings
Karen Hadden, SEED Coalition
Rose Gardner, Alliance for Environmental Strategies
Leona Morgan, Nuclear Issues Study Group
Pat Cardona, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter
Angel Amaya, Press Officer, Public Citizen's Texas Office
Growing concern across the state about the risks of controversial high-level radioactive waste and public opposition to the facility proposed for Southeast New Mexico has resulted in the addition of two Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meetings and an extension of the public comment period from May 29 to July 30.
The public meetings are set for Gallup and Albuquerque. In addition, the New Mexico Legislature's Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Interim Committee will hold a meeting to address state impacts of the plan on May 18. The dangerous radioactive-waste proposal has also become an issue in the New Mexico governor's race.
Holtec International wants to create a dump for supposedly "interim" storage of the nation's deadliest high-level radioactive waste at a site between Hobbs and Carlsbad, N.M. The waste is unlikely to move again since there would no longer be political will to create a permanent repository or to find funding to do so. The company plans to transport 10,000 canisters of irradiated reactor fuel rods from around the country and store them slightly underground and partly above the surface in New Mexico. This is more waste than all U.S. nuclear reactors have produced to date.
"We don't want to be the nation's nuclear dumping ground. Opposition is growing across the state. At recent NRC meetings, opponents of the proposal outnumbered those speaking in favor by 133 to 49," said Rose Gardner of Eunice, a founding member of Alliance for Environmental Strategies. Gardner attended all the recent NRC meetings about the proposed Holtec project, the first via phone and three in New Mexico.
- On April 25, the NRC met at their Maryland headquarters and took public comment via webinar and call-in. All 23 people who spoke opposed the Holtec application.
- On April 30, the NRC held a meeting in Roswell. There were more than 95 in attendance, filling the room and causing the fire marshal to close the doors, restricting additional citizens from attending. Of those who spoke, 45 were opposed to the project, 7 supported, and 1 was neutral.
- On May 1, at the NRC meeting in Hobbs, 33 people spoke in opposition to the Holtec proposal. Only 14 spoke in favor, including spokespeople from Holtec and their partner company, Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance LLC.
- At the final May 3 meeting in Carlsbad, 32 residents spoke in opposition and 28 spoke in favor of the proposal. The supporters included company employees and others who appear likely to benefit economically from the project.
In a May 7 statement in "Holtec Highlights," the company failed to mention that project supporters were the minority at all four of the NRC public scoping meetings.
"Those conspiring to build this nuclear dump have been working behind closed doors for years," said Nuclear Issues Study Group Co-founder Leona Morgan. "Our organization has been working to inform the public by doing presentations, using social media, and talking one-on-one at community events. An overwhelming majority of people do not know about this proposal and the possible transport through their communities. Keeping people in the dark is the only way this project can move forward. Once people learn about it, not only are they upset, they want to know more. Many want to get involved to help stop it." At the NRC meeting in Carlsbad, Morgan hand-delivered more than 1,300 signed letters in opposition to this project from residents across the state.
"This high-level nuclear waste dump is capable of ruining the water, land and crops and wildlife that provide food to New Mexicans," said Patricia Cardona of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. "The waste can cause cancer, birth defects and deaths. Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter does not support the proposal because of its impact on people and the inappropriate location near "karst" formations, which are caverns, bottomless lakes, and brine wells that have already proven to be problematic in storing hazardous waste and create conditions for possible collapse."
In 2016 the Department of Energy held eight consent-based siting meetings around the country seeking consent for storing this waste. There was no meeting held in New Mexico or Texas. Opponents of Holtec's project had to travel to the closest meeting, in Phoenix, to tell the DOE that New Mexico and Texas residents do not consent to bringing the nation's nuclear reactor waste to their communities, despite agency claims to the contrary. The recent ratio of opponents to supporters of this proposed site belies the industry claim that New Mexicans support hosting a consolidated interim storage site.
This issue has become a divisive one in the upcoming race for New Mexico governor. On May 10, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 3053, a change to the current nuclear-waste policy that would make the proposed Holtec waste dump allowable under law. New Mexico Reps. Ben R. Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham voted against the bill that would clear hurdles for interim nuclear-waste dumps, while Rep. Steve Pearce voted to authorize them.
"The Gallup and Albuquerque meetings are great opportunities for those at risk from transportation of this waste to raise their voices and say, 'No!' It's important for people to attend the NRC meetings and to send in comments, especially for those in rural areas along the railroad," said Petuuche Gilbert from the Pueblo of Acoma.
Seven serious rail accidents have occurred in the last three years in New Mexico. A Department of Energy report found that a small radioactive release could result in a 42-square-mile area being contaminated and that the cost of cleaning up a single square mile of an urban area could reach $9.5 billion.
"Recent wildfires near the existing Urenco and WCS radioactive waste facilities show how at-risk this waste is to natural disasters that are beyond our expectations and that are becoming worse as the climate changes," said Gardner.
"There is everything to lose with this plan to bring the nation's high-level radioactive waste to New Mexico. The risks to health, safety, security and financial well-being are immense and people need to act now to stop this massive mistake that imperils people in New Mexico as well as those along transport routes throughout the country," said Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. SEED Coalition has been working with local allies in opposing this application and a similar one just across the state line in Andrews County, Texas.
Top Reasons To Oppose The Holtec High-Level Waste Site
- Radiation exposures can cause cancers, genetic damage, birth defects and deaths. Some of the radioactive waste that could be imported remains dangerous for millions of years.
- It's a train wreck waiting to happen. Over 10,000 overweight rail cars would carry irradiated nuclear fuel rods to the site, in a process taking at least 20 years. At least one accident is predicted to occur. The waste would travel on rails very near the Carlsbad sinkhole.
- A single rail car would carry as much plutonium as was in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
- If the project is licensed, New Mexico would likely become a de facto permanent dump site for the most dangerous radioactive waste, at a site designed only for temporary storage. With aging canisters, it is unlikely the waste would move again. Storage casks, canisters and the site itself are not designed for long-term disposal. Leaks, cracks and contamination may result.
- When canisters start to deteriorate or if they leak, they need to be repackaged. Currently, there are no hot-cell or repackaging facilities for leaking or deteriorated canisters in Holtec's application plan.
- Most low-level radioactive-waste dumps have leaked, and remediation costs have been over a billion dollars.
- Congress won't adequately fund the cleanup if there are leaks or accidents. The cost of cleaning up radioactive contamination could be a financial disaster for the people of New Mexico.
- Those who live near existing nuclear reactors know the risks and don't want the waste to stay near them.
- Why should New Mexico or Texas take it? New Mexico didn't receive the power or any benefit from the nuclear reactors that produced it. Dumping the waste on New Mexico would be environmental injustice at its worst.
- This deadly waste could have a huge negative economic impact on oil and gas, dairy, pecan and tourism industries, which employ more than 20,000 people in the area. The Holtec project promises only 55 jobs.
Additional NRC Public Meeting Locations:
Monday, May 21
Open House from 5 pm to 6 pm; Public Scoping from 6 pm to 9 pm
Gallup Downtown Conference Center
Tuesday, May 22
Open House from 5 pm to 6 pm; Public Scoping from 6 pm to 9 pm
The "scoping" period for Holtec's application has been extended. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take public scoping comments until July 30. Letters can be sent from https://action.citizen.org/p/--
dia/action4/common/public/? action_KEY=13813. Further information on how to submit comments and a sample letter can be found at www.NoNuclearWaste.org.
Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter communications coordinator