NOTE: This piece was shortened for space from for print version of Spring 2019 Nukewatch Quarterly from a Nuclear Information Resource Service press release by Diane D’Arrigo and Leona Morgan.
Ten citizens’ organizations and two industry groups have blasted an application by Holtec International, Inc. for a license to build the world’s largest radioactive waste dump—in New Mexico. If licensed, the “parking lot dump” would lead to tens of thousands of cross-country shipments of the waste—by trains, trucks, and barges—for decades.
Official waste transport routes show containers moving across nearly 90% of US congressional districts, through neighborhoods, cities, farmlands, ocean-fronts, and across major lakes and rivers. Representing seven of the groups, attorney Terry Lodge said at a recent New Mexico hearing, “The Holtec proposal is a corporate welfare trough that will make the [radioactive] waste problem worse, putting millions of people along transport routes at unnecessary risk.”
The interveners filed 40 objections, demanding that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board halt the licensing process, charging that the plan is unlawful. The federal Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) allows the Department of Energy (DOE) to take possession of the commercial reactor waste, but only at a permanent underground dump site. The NWPA does not permit “title and liability transfer” of the waste to a private “interim” dump site as Holtec proposes. The NWPA precaution is intended to prevent temporary storage from becoming permanent. Holtec’s proposed site in New Mexico is not suitable for long-term waste isolation, the groups argue, and not even suitable for short-term storage.
At the hearing in New Mexico, Holtec lawyer Jay Silberg admitted that under current law, DOE cannot take title to the waste at its “interim” dump site. The admission prompted Diane Curran, an attorney for Beyond Nuclear, to say, “We should not even have to argue this hypothetical case. We call on the licensing board to dismiss the application.”
Sierra Club lawyer Wallace Taylor said at the hearing, “It is irresponsible and illegal to grant a license for 20, 40 or 60 years and ignore that the waste will be dangerous for centuries longer with no plans to continue managing and isolating it.”
Among the objections are environmental racism; water contamination; inadequate waste containers; inability to inspect, monitor or repackage waste inside the casks; waste abandonment costs and funding; and needless transport endangerment.
The 3-judge NRC panel could decide in April which groups have “standing” to intervene, and which of the 40 objections will be considered.
- Nuclear Information Resource Service, Jan. 31, 2019