The governor of New Mexico implored the White House in a recent letter to step in and block the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from licensing a proposed interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in the Land of Enchantment.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), a longtime opponent of Holtec International’s proposed interim storage site in Lea County, N.M., urged President Joe Biden in a Nov. 16 letter to take action “to suspend consideration of the Holtec license application.”
Lujan Grisham said that the Department of Energy and NRC should instead “directly engage with the State of New Mexico within a consent based framework on the many unaddressed issues related to nuclear waste disposal at this and related facilities that we have been raising for years.”
NRC is currently reviewing New Jersey-based Holtec’s interim storage license application, which it has said it could wrap up as soon as February 2023. Agency staff in July recommended that the project get a federal license.
Lujan Grisham accused NRC of failing to “address, or even acknowledge,” the environmental, economic or public health concerns New Mexico raised during the site’s licensing process. The commission “continues to ignore this expressed opposition, as well as the significant and substantial issues the state, tribes, and many other stakeholders have raised,” she said.
The governor also said NRC failed to comply with the Biden administration’s 2021 executive order directing the federal government to consider the impacts of pollution and climate change on underserved communities. Both the draft and final versions of the commission’s environmental impact statement for the proposed site “have done nothing to identify and evaluate the cumulative history of adverse human health and environmental effects on New Mexico’s vulnerable populations,” Lujan Grisham said.
A spokesperson for NRC declined to comment Tuesday. In its environmental review for the proposed interim storage project, the agency wrote that it “did not identify any means or pathways for the proposed project (Phase 1 or Phases 2-20) to disproportionately affect minority or low-income populations,” and “that no disproportionately high and adverse impacts on any environmental justice populations would exist” if Holtec builds the facility.
Lujan Grisham mailed her letter as New Mexico angles to block the proposed Holtec site in the courts. State Attorney General Hector Balderas is currently overseeing a lawsuit against NRC in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which accuses the commission of running afoul of federal nuclear waste law.
If it gets built, Holtec has said that its interim storage site would initially be able to store around 8,700 tons of spent nuclear fuel in 500 canisters. That capacity could be increased by 10,000 canisters via future license amendments.