A bill introduced in the US Senate this week could impact future nuclear projects in New Mexico, where a private company hopes to build a facility to store some of the most radioactive nuclear waste in the United States.
U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) And Representative Mike Levin (D-CA.) Introduced the Nuclear Waste Task Force Act on September 28, which would establish a task force to study amendments to the law on atomic energy 1954. remove environmental exceptions for nuclear waste, creating a consent-based program for the siting of facilities.
If passed and based on the task force’s recommendations, this bill could act as an obstacle to plans like the one proposed by Holtec International to build a temporary storage facility for spent nuclear fuel rods in the South East. from New Mexico.
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The project would temporarily contain up to 100,000 metric tonnes of waste while a permanent repository is developed. Such a final resting place for waste does not exist in the United States, as a site in Yucca Mountain, Nevada was blocked by state lawmakers and funded under the administration of the former president. Barrack Obama.
Project Holtec has met with widespread opposition from New Mexico leaders, including Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Hector Balderas and Public Lands Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard.
But the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recommended earlier this year that a license be issued to Holtec over state concerns, and recently licensed a facility in West Texas proposed by Interim. Storage Partners, which was also opposed by the leaders of that state.
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If passed, the bill was intended to give more power to states, as the current law does not require the federal government to obtain consent at this level when siting nuclear facilities.
“When it comes to the storage of nuclear waste, siting decisions should be rooted in geological science, not political science,” said Markeys. “Enabling consent-based storage is the key to developing real and practical solutions for the long-term storage of nuclear waste. This nuclear waste working group will play a key role in determining how to get there. “
And New Mexico does not accept Holtec’s proposal, said Don Hancock, director of the nuclear waste program at the Albuquerque-based watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center.
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He said opposition from heads of state and public comments gathered during the NRC clearance process showed the majority of New Mexicans were not in favor of the installation.
“If you look at the public comments, most people opposed it. One of the flaws is that the NRC said we don’t care, ”Hancock said. “NRC is correct that they are not required by law to obtain state consent to authorize these facilities. “
Local government leaders in the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs and the counties of Eddy and Lea – where the site would ultimately be built – have expressed support for Holtec.
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The Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance, a consortium of the four local governments that own the land and courted Holtec, has promoted the project to create jobs and diversify the economy in a region heavily dependent on oil and gas extraction.
Even if the federal license is ultimately issued, Hancock said the state could still block its operation by denying permits such as access to water or other utilities, as happened in d ‘other States where repositories of nuclear waste have been proposed.
With a consent-based process, Hancock said the state and federal government will work together to develop the site and avoid future conflicts.
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“All of the states that were considered for high-level waste repositories said no,” he said. “It’s not always the end. The existing law says that Yucca Mountain is the first deposit. The law does not give Nevada the right to consent, but they said they would never consent, and they stopped this project.
“There are certain powers that the federal government does not have. To the extent that the federal government has the authority for the disposal of nuclear waste, it does not have the authority for other things required for a repository.
Levin argued that the bill would allow the federal government to overcome conflicts with states over nuclear waste sites and find a solution as to what to do with the country’s nuclear waste.
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Used nuclear fuel is currently stored primarily on-site at reactor sites across the country, primarily near large bodies of water and densely populated areas.
Everyone agrees waste shouldn’t stay where it is forever, and Levin said the task force could prove invaluable in finding a route to disposal.
“We need to advance a consent-based path to long-term elimination and exploring that path to consent is a critical step in this process,” he said. “I know it can get the ball rolling on this stage and help solve our storage problems once and for all. “
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.