SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico has a long history with nuclear science, but should the state be the final resting place of the nation’s radioactive waste? That’s the question at the heart of a bill moving through the Roundhouse.
The U.S. produces about 2,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. And there’s more waste from the nation’s defense weapons research. In recent years, the waste has been distributed across the U.S. at various storage sites, but more and more nuclear waste is being consolidated in New Mexico.
For years, there’s been debate over where to put the waste. And one way or another, the waste has to go somewhere. Now, New Mexico’s legislators are considering a bill that might help keep waste out of the state.
“The federal government has got a real problem,” Sen. Daniel A. Ivey-Soto (D-Abq.) said in a Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. “They’ve got to figure this [waste problem] out. And part of the dilemma . . . is it’s got to be put someplace.”
Senate Bill 53, sponsored by a handful of Democratic legislators, aims to give New Mexico a stronger voice in negotiations with the federal government. In theory, the bill would increase New Mexico’s ability to decide if radioactive waste is stored in the state.
The bill would expand the scope of an existing task force to negotiate with the federal government over disposal facilities. It would also prohibit the disposal of nuclear waste in New Mexico without the state’s consent.
Many supporters of the bill agree that New Mexico shouldn’t be a de-facto dumping ground. But there’s some concern over whether or not New Mexico can tell the federal government what to do when it comes to disposing of waste.
The U.S. Constitution contains the “Supremacy Clause,” which generally says that federal laws take precedence over state laws. In an analysis of Senate Bill 53, the New Mexico Environment Department notes that because the federal government has clear power over much of the nation’s nuclear safety programs, it’s possible that state laws trying to limit nuclear waste storage based on safety concerns might simply be overpowered by federal law. But, to get around the federal Supremacy Clause, it might be possible to reject nuclear waste based on a non-safety-related basis.
Despite the feeling that the bill could lead to legal issues, legislators supported Senate Bill 53 on Monday. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on an 8 – 1 bipartisan vote with some amendments. Next, it’s headed to the Senate floor.