About 50 environmental groups have joined New Mexico's congressional delegates in urging the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to postpone all hearings on a proposed radioactive-waste storage site until the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
Holtec International is partnering with the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance in a plan to build a temporary underground storage site for nuclear plants' spent fuel. It would be halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs in southeastern New Mexico.
The environmental groups and the state's congressional delegation are asking the agency to suspend hearings to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines, which advise against public gatherings that can spread the new coronavirus.
They also want the agency to extend the public comment period for the site's draft environmental impact statement beyond the current 60 days. The coalition has suggested at least six months to allow the pandemic to run its course.
"NRC must stand down and postpone these hearings as well as extend the comment period," said Rose Gardner, a member of Alliance for Environmental Strategies. "The most vulnerable in our communities would be put at risk if these hearings were held now."
Other groups in the coalition pushing for delayed hearings include Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Indigenous Rights Center, Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, Nuclear Issues Study Group and the Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter.
"We believe it is essential for the NRC to provide an open and transparent review process with ample opportunity for public input on Holtec's proposal," New Mexico's congressional delegates said in a March 20 letter. "We respectfully urge you to extend the public comment period until the threat of COVID-19 has passed and it is again safe to attend public hearings."
Most of the delegates and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have expressed opposition to high-level radioactive waste being stored in New Mexico. Lujan Grisham contends it could adversely affect the oil and gas industry in the southeastern part of the state.
The coalition also wants public hearings held in all U.S. cities through which the radioactive waste would be transported, including Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia.