Officials, locals weigh in on proposed radioactive waste storage site

New Mexico News

A Florida company wants to build a storage facility for nuclear waste in New Mexico that’s caused a lot of controversy. Thursday, opponents to the plan were very vocal at a public hearing on the proposed site.

Safety was at the forefront of the conversation as state legislators, local officials and residents weighed the risks of the site that’s being proposed between Carlsbad and Hobbs. The main concern: transporting the hazardous material.

“It’s a risk that is so dangerous that no one else in the country wants it,” said Tom Smith of Austin, Texas.

That risk he’s talking about is thousands of tons of nuclear waste. While the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad handles them daily, Holtec International is proposing a different way of dealing with this waste.

They plan to haul 10,000 casks of radioactive waste from all over the country to a temporary storage via railroads — an estimated 10 canisters per month.

“That’s one or two railcars of spent nuclear fuel, therefore we’re adding very little to the rail system,” said Joy Russell, spokeswoman for Holtec International.

Residents have already held several protests over the proposal, and many showed up Thursday expressing concern.

“For most of us that don’t live adjacent to the site, our biggest risk is going to be on rail,” said Smith. “What would happen if there’s a rail accident?”

Others who’ve lived next to WIPP and dealt with shipments for years defended the process.

“It’s very safe, it’s seismically inactive, it’s dry,” said Richard Doss of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

“The casks have been tested, they’re heat tested, they’ve been dropped, they’ve been frozen, put under water.”

Still, railroad officials do have doubts about the condition of the tracks between Clovis and Carlsbad. They say the current ones are not equipped to handle the containers.

State senator and chairman of the Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Committee, Jeff Steinborn, said he has yet to form a concrete opinion on it, but there’s always the factor of human error.

“The reality is it definitely comes with a lot of risk and high-level nuclear waste, if you’re exposed to it, can be lethal,” said Steinborn. 

Holtec hopes to obtain a license in 2020, with plans to have the place up and running by 2023.

The meeting also addressed emergency preparedness.

The deadline for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to consider public comments is July 30. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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