Congress members from NM, Texas work to ban interim nuclear fuel storage funding

By: - March 7, 2022 4:30 am

The shuttered Zion Nuclear Power Station sits along the shore of Lake Michigan March 11, 2009 in Zion, Illinois. About 1,000 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel is reportedly stored in a containment pool on the property due in part to a lack of permanent storage. (Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of members of Congress introduced a bill that would prevent federal money from going toward private interim nuclear waste storage facilities, an effort to prevent such sites from being built in Southeastern New Mexico and Western Texas. 

Elected officials and environmental groups fear so-called “interim” sites will become permanent nuclear storage sites. There is currently no permanent nuclear waste storage site in the United States. 

Two proposed temporary sites are in Lea County in New Mexico, by a company known as Holtec, and in Andrews, Texas, by a company known as Interim Storage Partners. The two sites are about 80 miles away from each other. 

Holtec has proposed building a New Mexico facility that would initially store up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium in 500 canisters. The company would eventually seek authorization to store spent nuclear fuel in 10,000 canisters over the next two decades. 

The sites would ostensibly provide storage until a permanent disposal site is built, though Holtec is seeking a 40-year lease. 

The Texas site has already received a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the New Mexico site is undergoing the same federal review, with a decision expected this year. 

Lawmakers hope to derail radioactive waste permit

The bill introduced last week, if passed, would prohibit hundreds of millions of federal dollars from going to private, “interim” nuclear waste sites for spent nuclear fuel. Spent nuclear fuel is disposed of after it can no longer carry a chain reaction required for energy production.

The measure’s sponsors, in a news release, urged the federal government to build a permanent nuclear waste storage site, as it is required to do under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act. 

U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.) and August Plfuger (R-Texas) sponsored the bill, along with U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

“For far too long, our communities in New Mexico have borne the unequal cost of our nation’s nuclear program,” Stansbury said in a written statement to Source New Mexico. “I am proud to join members of the New Mexico delegation to introduce bipartisan legislation that requires the Department of Energy to honor its commitments and provide permanent waste disposal to protect our communities’ health and well-being.”

In New Mexico, legislation that would have prohibited the storage of spent nuclear fuel — either temporarily or permanently — did not make it through the session. 

The Holtec site is facing opposition from state agencies and environmental groups, and a longtime anti-nuclear activist recently told Source New Mexico he is confident the site will never be built here, even if it receives the necessary licenses from regulators. 

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard.