Several nuclear waste experts are urging members of Congress and the public to oppose any proposals to transport highly radioactive nuclear waste from power plants to temporary or long-term storage sites.
Researchers with multiple groups dedicated to analyzing the potential consequences of nuclear waste storage said Friday they have major concerns with plans to transport spent fuel to other parts of the country — even for permanent storage at a place such as Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
Work on the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository has been stalled for nearly a decade.
Waste is gathered at about 80 sites across the nation as the federal government continues looking for a permanent solution for highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel, spurring environmental and health worries.
The issue is of critical concern for New Mexico because Florida-based Holtec International has proposed creating a temporary storage facility about halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs, where nuclear waste would be stored until the federal government forms a permanent facility.
Don Hancock, nuclear waste program director for the Southwest Research and Information Center, said Friday during a briefing hosted by the Washington D.C.-based Environmental and Energy Study Institute that transporting waste from other states to New Mexico or elsewhere poses grave concerns because of the potential for a disastrous spill.
Several bills are pending in Congress that deal with nuclear waste and Yucca Mountain, but Hancock argued none of the proposals would be safe. Any accident during transportation would “be a major national and international concern” that could create serious long-term health and psychological problems, he said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged President Donald Trump in July to oppose Holtec International’s plans to build an underground storage site in the state to hold spent nuclear fuel.
In a letter to the president, the governor called the plan an “unnecessary risk to our citizens and our communities” and implored Trump to ax a similar project proposed in West Texas.
Los Alamos National Laboratory has proposed storing weapons-grade plutonium at a separate underground facility in Southern New Mexico, sparking concern from nuclear watchdogs who say the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad was not intended to house high-level waste.
Bob Alvarez with the Institute for Policy Studies, a former senior policy adviser for the Department of Energy, argued Friday during the briefing that spent nuclear fuel contains “some of the largest concentrations of artificial radiation” on the globe and presents major environmental and health concerns.
If the Yucca Mountain plan were approved, it would take extensive engineering, maintenance and oversight to ensure safe storage of waste that will continue emitting high temperatures and radiation for more than 300 years, Alvarez said.
Transporting such waste to a temporary site also would be major point of conflict between the federal government and local farmers in Texas and New Mexico, according to Diane D’Arrigo, director of the Radioactive Waste Project for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.
D’Arrigo, one of the panelists at the briefing, said such waste also presents an environmental justice concern because it’s more likely to be stored near poor and heavily Latino communities in the Southwest.
Nationally, the problem of where to store nuclear waste may take on an increasing importance as interest grows in expanding nuclear power.
The Associated Press reported that the chairwoman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in October nuclear energy could help the nation transition to clean energy as climate change becomes more severe and as global oil production declines in the future.