Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2021
By Christine Manwiller
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a 47-page lawsuit against the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Monday, March 29 over the nuclear waste complex proposal by Holtec International in southeastern New Mexico. The planned Centralized Interim Storage (CIS) facility could accept 100,000 tons of high level radioactive waste from nuclear power reactors across the US, giving it the distinction of the largest nuclear waste dump in the world. However, as no permanent storage site exists, the concern that the New Mexico site would become a “permanent dumping ground” is very real.
The complaint argues that the commission should not have granted Holtec a license to build the storage facility, and that by doing so it “overstepped its authority.” The suit says that potential dangers posed by the waste site include: “surface and groundwater contamination, disruption of oil and gas development in one of the nation’s most productive basins, and added strain on emergency response resources.” The area is also geologically unstable, with potash mining creating the potential for sinkholes. In the suit, the NRC is accused of “rubber stamping” the plan, rushing the process, and ignoring the challenges of opposed parties.
New Mexico’s suit confronts the apparent illegality of the licensing process. Holtec’s license applications require the Energy Department to “take ownership of the [waste] fuel at a future date and contract with the developers of the facilities to store it.” But according to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the department cannot take ownership before a permanent storage facility is open and operating. The suit also accuses the NRC of promoting “the idea of long term consolidated interim storage of high-level radioactive waste in New Mexico, without its consent or consideration.”