Storage plan for spent fuel adds to nuclear debate via Los Angeles Chronicle

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A plan to temporarily store tons of spent fuel from U.S. commercial nuclear reactors in New Mexico is drawing fire from critics who say the federal government needs to consider more alternatives.

Dozens of people packed a meeting Monday in Roswell as regulators took comments on the proposal by Holtec International to construct a below-ground space that could house about 100,000 metric tons of used fuel.

Ranchers and dairy operators suggested the plan could affect agriculture and oil and gas — stalwarts of the southeastern New Mexico economy.

Supporters say the project could provide another economic boost to the region, already home to the federal government’s only underground repository for Cold War-era waste generated by decades of bomb-making and nuclear research.


The storage facility would be located in a remote area on 1,000 acres between the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs.

The latest budget request by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission includes more than $47 million for a long-stalled nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, 100 miles from Las Vegas. That state’s Republican governor and lawmakers from both parties oppose the plan.


“But even if we had Yucca Mountain open today, we would still need to look for another permanent repository,” Alexander said. “We have more than enough used fuel to fill Yucca Mountain to its legal capacity.”

The quickest and likely least expensive way to meet government obligations is to contract with a private storage facility, Alexander said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said about 3,000 metric tons of highly radioactive rods are stored close to the ocean and population centers in her state alone. She acknowledged that efforts to move the waste away from reactor sites have been hamstrung in part by the politics surrounding Yucca Mountain.

Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said in a letter to Feinstein and Alexander that Yucca Mountain poses risks that must be addressed.

“To date, however, Nevadans have not received any assurances from the NRC that their concerns will receive the process and consideration they are due under existing law,” he wrote.

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