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.

(2) comments

Francisco Carbajal

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should cease and desist in supporting this type of private nuclear industry project from becoming a permanent "nuclear dump" in New Mexico, period! Specifically, the EPA which is the lead agency charged with implementing the Presidential Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice - Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations should be held accountable to the fullest. Frankly, the EPA needs to stop redefining the purpose of the Order since 2004 and one in 2006. The 26th Anniversary of the Order is arriving on February 14, 2021 and maybe the newly elect President will declare this day as a reminder to the nation that even in New Mexico, we are not asleep and only trying to protect our entire 'Land of Enchantment" from becoming a nuclear crypt in our indigenous communities in the Southwest. Is anyone listening to this shameful conduct that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are conducting against "the will of the citizen's of the State of New Mexico?"

Russell Nietert

New Mexico's very own Sandia National Laboratory proved the safety of transporting high level waste over 40 years ago! They tested transportation cask survivability in numerous scenarios with no compromise of radiation leak in any of them. They ran a semi hauling a cask into a solid concrete bunker, they slammed a locomotive into a semi trailer hauling a transportation cask, and even accelerated a cask down a railway into a solid concrete bunker followed by immersing the cask in a fire of jet fuel. Remember what jet fuel did to the twin towers? The nuclear fuel inside the cask didn't even get to 300 degrees! Similarly, the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel in dry stationary casks has been more than proven. Anyone concerned with either of these activities simply doesn't believe in Science.

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