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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a license May 9th to Holtec International to construct and operate a so-called “interim” storage facility in Lea County. It would hold high-level nuclear waste from commercial production sites nationwide. The license authorizes Holtec to store 500 canisters holding approximately 8,680 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel for 40 years. However, the company has said it plans to store up to 10,000 canisters over 19 expansion phases.

The permit comes after the New Mexico Legislature recently passed, and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed, SB 53 – Storage of Certain Radioactive Waste, providing the state authority over a traditionally one-sided federal nuclear matter. Under SB 53, any proposals for the storage of nuclear waste in New Mexico would have to meet two conditions: the state must agree to any such facility, and the federal government must have a functioning permanent repository for such waste, which is a requirement in federal statute.

Any “interim” facility would likely become permanent due to the immense cost and risk of removing, transporting, and storing radioactive materials and the current absence of a permanent facility. To date, the NRC has issued permits for two other “interim” facilities and neither has been constructed and put into operation due to intense community opposition.

New Mexico has its own environmental permitting programs administered by the New Mexico Environment Department. Those permits would govern the protection of surface water, drinking water, groundwater, and air quality for any proposed nuclear waste storage facility. Both the NRC and Holtec have acknowledged that the facility must comply with New Mexico’s requirements for pollution prevention, waste management, protection of historic and archeological resources, and access to the proposed Holtec site.

Opponents of the facility – including CVNM – are weighing next steps. We will keep you apprised of ways to get more involved in the coming weeks. To read more about the issue, click here.