New Mexico Nuclear Waste Dispute
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- Jun 30, 2019 7:00 pm GMTJun 30, 2019 6:50 pm GMT
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- Nuclear power generates about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and represents more than half of its carbon-free sources, said John Wagner, who oversees the nuclear science and technology directorate at Idaho National Laboratory.
- About 80,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel generated by commercial reactors is stored around the nation, according to the US Government Accountability Office.
A typical nuclear power plant in a year generates 20 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. The nuclear industry generates a total of about 2,000 - 2,300 metric tons of used fuel per year.
With those numbers constantly growing, the need for a nuclear waste management plan is vital. Industry officials say the path forward needs to include both interim storage options and plans for permanent disposal. The current administration has moved to restart the licensing process for Yucca Mountain despite concerns in Nevada. Private companies have also applied for licenses to open temporary storage facilities in New Mexico and West Texas. Holtec International submitted an application for a license to construct an interim high-level radioactive waste storage facility that could hold up to 120,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel rods on a 1,000-acre property owned by Eddy Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) near the border of Eddy and Lea counties in New Mexico. Proposals like that face opposition from high-ranking Democrats in New Mexico, oil and gas developers in the Permian Basin, ranchers and environmentalists. US Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, said her state wants a voice in the process and that the legislation needs to be updated to allow for states to weigh in on whether they’re willing to accept any waste. After the Holtec application, congresswoman Deb Haaland announced her opposition to storing high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico in a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
High-level radioactive waste is the byproduct of energy generated inside nuclear power plants and currently, there are over 60 dry cask storage sites across 34 states. Plans to reclassify some of the country's radioactive waste to lesser threat levels is angering environmental groups and raising questions among experts. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has already expressed her opposition to the DOE’s plans calling it an unacceptable risk. Many feel most people in the area are not well informed on the proposed nuclear waste site, its operations or the level of safety proposed for the site. Holtec’s plans to transport waste by rail has also raised several concerns. Despite the ongoing dispute, Eddy County is supporting the nuclear waste site near Carlsbad.