Public airs concerns about proposed nuclear waste project near WIPP

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By Tris DeRoma

Environmental activists, leaders of nuclear safety organizations and New Mexico residents voiced concerns Wednesday during an online meeting about Holtec’s plans to build a temporary holding facility for spent nuclear waste in southeastern New Mexico.

The company plans to store up to 8,680 tons of spent fuel from nuclear reactors from across the United States. 

Holtec has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a 40-year license for the project. The overall lifespan of the facility is for 120 years. 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission held the meeting Wednesday to gather public comment for Holtec’s environmental review application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the project.

Many were concerned about the company’s plans to bring waste from all over the country to the facility.

“Transportation must be examined thoroughly, as far as environmental impact is concerned,” said Nuclear Information Service Director David Craft. “We don’t have the Starship Enterprise, we don’t have the ability to instantly transport this waste from one place to another. There will be hundreds of communities affected by the decision made by the NRC’s EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and they need to have a voice and a part in this proceeding. 

“Not only that but the environment doesn’t give two craps about anybody’s borders or lines of demarcation or property lines,” Craft continued. “The air and the water goes everywhere on its own accord.” 

Holtec plans to build the facility on 1,045 acres of land currently being used for cattle grazing, according to Holtec’s application. 

According to a April 30, 2015, press release from Holtec International, the waste will be stored entirely below ground in specially designed canisters that will not require any utilities, such as electricity or water.

“The subterranean stored contents emit virtually zero radiation dose to the facility workers and surrounding environment,” according to the company’s press release. “(The storage system) provides the nation a single dry storage system to store all of the nation’s used fuel and high-level waste in a below-grade, monitored, retrievable, interim storage facility that provides maximum protection against terrorism and natural disasters.”

Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Safety Program at the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, said the environmental report Holtec submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not complete. 

During the public comment section of the meeting, he presented a long list of concerns that he said needed to be addressed before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grants them a license. 

“What are the maximum and medium amounts of radioactivity in each canister? I don’t understand why that’s not included in Holtec’s documents,” Hancock said. “That’s a key fact in understanding what the environmental impacts might be and what impacts would come from these canisters, either in transportation or storage.”

Hancock also took issue with a prediction Holtec made about future industrial activity in the area.

“How can Holtec assure that there will be no chemical plants in the area for 120 years, which is the timeframe that they are expected to operate? Who would be responsible for preventing a chemical plant, what’s the number of jobs and economic impact that a chemical plant would provide that would be forgone?” Hancock asked. “While Holtec wants to say the impacts of chemical plants are not part of the environmental review, I believe it does have to be part of the environmental review.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission plans more meetings in Roswell, Hobbs and Carlsbad April 30-May 3. For more information, go to the NRC.gov website and search for Holtec.