By Kelly Lundeen
In September the Department of Energy (DOE) announced a $16 million fund to be distributed to eight communities willing to consider hosting the nation’s 90,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste in a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF). Resembling a bribery scenario, the candidates would likely be placed on a list of future host sites in exchange for the funds. The recipients will be tasked with engaging community stakeholders to inform them about advantages and disadvantages of storing the immensely hazardous waste from nuclear energy production, and exploring technical and geological factors. Awardees are expected to be announced by February of 2023. Yet the federal government appears to give with one hand and take with the other.
While the DOE claims to seek “consent” for the siting of waste storage, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is strong-arming a CISF into Texas with the Interim Storage Partners facility, and into New Mexico with the Holtec International proposal — no matter the resistance.
Rose Gardner, of Alliance for Environmental Strategies, spoke at a congressional briefing last March. “I live five miles from … Interim Storage Partners (ISP),” for which the NRC rubber-stamped a license in September 2021. “I have maintained my opposition against storage of nuclear waste … for many years…. Several communities in New Mexico have passed resolutions against Holtec…. There has never been any consent from the public to store commercial irradiated waste in their state.”
The NRC increased public distrust of its work in a November 3 public meeting about Holtec International’s licensing status. In the meeting NRC project manager Jose Cuadrado reported the submission of 6,600 public comments regarding the CISF Environmental Impact Statement. When he was corrected by Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear, Cuadrado was forced to admit that his data had excluded online form-generated comments, and there had been about 50,000 comments, mostly opposing the CISF. Kamps informed the meeting that this was a record-breaking number for the subject matter, and a far cry from “consent.” Additional opposition comes from the Western Governors’ Association, which has passed a resolution banning any of its 22 constituent states and US territories from accepting a CISF without the governor’s consent.
Lawsuits against the NRC’s granting of a license for the ISP facility in Texas have been filed by Beyond Nuclear, Sierra Club, a six-organization coalition headed by Don’t Waste Michigan, and the States of New Mexico and Texas. Oral arguments were heard August 29 in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and November 10 in the US Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. The courts’ rulings are pending regarding the alleged illegality of the license under federal law (including the Nuclear Waste Policy Act), and dump promoters’ failure to consider emergency funds required in the event of an accident. The State of New Mexico has also appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
While the DOE gives the appearance of being concerned about “consent” (via bribes), the NRC flaunts its intentions to forge ahead by lying at public hearings and breaking federal laws. Continuing the current licensing process undermines any consent the DOE professes to seek. If the NRC approves the license for Holtec’s CISF, and the facilities begin to operate, Rose Gardner concludes, “I would have a nuclear dump five miles from my home and another nuclear dump 35 miles from my home…. I consider that a grave environmental injustice to my community, to my family, and to this non-consenting state.”
— US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Nov. 10; NRC, Nov. 3; The Paper, Sept. 28; Power Magazine, Sept. 22; US Congressional Briefing, Mar. 31, 2022