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New Mexico leaders push for high-level nuclear waste via Santa Fe New Mexican

At first glance, the barren stretch of desert between Carlsbad and Hobbs in southeastern New Mexico seems unfit for any kind of industry. But this rugged, nondescript patch of land is poised to be the focus of the next national conversation about how to dispose of the country’s most dangerous nuclear waste.

The state took a crucial step this month toward accepting such waste, which other Western states have shunned, when Gov. Susana Martinez quietly signaled to the Obama administration that New Mexico would welcome it.

In an April 10 letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, which was obtained by The New Mexican, Martinez urged the administration to look to southeastern New Mexico to store the spent, highly radioactive fuel rods left over from electricity production at nuclear power plants. The desolate 1,000-acre parcel is not far from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository, which accepts only lower-level radioactive waste.

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Hancock rattled off a long list of reasons he thinks the plan is a bad idea. Most nuclear power plants are thousands of miles away, meaning the nation’s most volatile waste would need to travel across the country to come here, posing threats along the way. Comparable plans have been batted down not only in other states, but in New Mexico. Hancock said it’s disingenuous to characterize the proposed storage site in New Mexico as an interim way station for spent fuel on its way to a permanent resting place. With the demise of plans to construct a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the U.S. is without a final destination for spent fuel, so Hancock worries that any interim storage options would in fact become the final stop.

“This is the hottest, most radioactive material in the United States,” Hancock said. “Permanent disposal doesn’t exist. So the so-called plan for ‘interim’ storage is a charade. It’s not truthful. Nobody can seriously believe that. There is no ability to send it someplace else, because there is no someplace else.”

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$1,000 — more than one-fourth of all the money it gave to state-level candidates nationwide. In federal campaigns during the 2014 election cycle, AREVA PAC donated $3,000 to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M; $1,000 to U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.; $1,500 to U.S Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.; and $3,000 to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M, who wasn’t even up for re-election last year. Among New Mexico’s representatives in Congress, only U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, did not receive money from AREVA PAC.

Carlsbad has been doing its own lobbying of Congress to promote southeastern New Mexico as a waste dumpsite. Since 2012, the city of Carlsbad has spent about $260,000 on lobbyists to try to persuade members of Congress to consider the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance’s parcel as a waste storage site, according to analysis of lobbyist records by the Center for Responsive Politics.

AREVA’s campaign donations and Carlsbad’s lobbying push ramped up after the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance provided formal notice in early 2013 to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its plans to seek a license to operate a spent-fuel storage facility.

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