(The Center Square) – Safety and economic concerns over a proposed nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad have prompted the state of New Mexico to sue the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
To be built by Holtec in southeast New Mexico, the facility would be an above-ground complex for storing spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants.
The state’s lawsuit is built on legal concerns.
Holtec has stated the federal government is going to fund the facility, but according to federal law, utilities are responsible for storage, said Don Hancock, director of the Southwest Research and Information Center’s Nuclear Waste Program.
“The state argues consistently throughout the complaint that this whole facility is illegal because the federal law doesn’t authorize the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to authorize this kind of consolidated facility,” he told The Center Square.
Hancock added that the state’s entire list of complaints is 47 pages long.
“The federal government has said in law that this spent fuel, this irradiated fuel from nuclear power plants, is highly toxic and highly dangerous, and its permanent disposal requires it to be disposed deep underground in stable geologic formations, so that’s the law,” he said. “This facility is none of that.”
Holtec and NRC attempted to circumvent that issue by terming the storage facility as temporary, however, the state pointed out that Holtec and NRC can’t provide a timeframe for when it would be moved and have admitted they don’t have any plans for where it would go, said Hancock.
These legal concerns only compound the economic issues raised.
The facility would be built in the middle of the biggest oil and gas production areas in the state and poses a significant threat to operations.
“In the best of all circumstances it would be disruptive and, the worst of all circumstances, it would close down a multi-million dollar industry,” Hancock said.
Disruption would be caused by global perceptions that New Mexico oil producers are OK with having an illegal nuclear storage facility nearby that could leak into the supply of oil, Hancock said. The worst-case scenario is a leak that leaves New Mexico’s oil supply radioactively contaminated and causes billions of dollars in economic damage.
“If there was a leak or an accident and the nation and the world heard there was a major nuclear accident in the middle of the oil and gas production field of New Mexico or Texas, what do you think people are going to think about that?” he asked.
After failed attempts to get the NRC to consider their concerns, the state turned to the courts to make their voice heard, said Hancock.
“The state feels ignored,” he said.