Commentary: On Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that its Atomic Safety and Licensing Board had rejected every objection made by intervenors challenging Holtec International’s application to build a storage facility for high-level nuclear waste in southeast New Mexico.
Among the requests the panel refused to consider was the objection raised by Sierra Club that U.S. law clearly prohibits nuclear waste being moved to interim facilities before a permanent storage site has been identified. No such permanent sites exist in the U.S.
“This ‘interim' storage facility could well become a permanent repository without the protections of a permanent repository,” Sierra Club attorney Wally Taylor said in response to Tuesday’s ruling. “Now it is up to the people and public officials in New Mexico to protect New Mexicans from this boondoggle.”
“New Mexico citizens should be very concerned about this project,” Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Nuclear-Waste Co-Chair John Buchser said. “Energy Secretary Rick Perry has indicated he is OK with the storage-site proposal in Texas, just across the New Mexico border, becoming a permanent facility. The Sierra Club is very concerned about possible radioactive releases from containers designed for short-term storage. The transport of this highly radioactive waste is even more risky, and the nation’s rail system is not safe enough to transport this waste.”
Taylor, representing the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, and attorneys for Beyond Nuclear, Fasken, AFES and transportation intervenors raised nearly 50 different contentions before the three-judge board during oral arguments in January in Albuquerque.
The panel, charged with ruling on petitioners’ standing and the admissibility of their contentions under NRC regulations, agreed that some of the six petitioners, including the Sierra Club, had standing, but ruled that not not a single one of nearly 50 contentions raised were admissible for even an evidentiary hearing.
“The board won’t even consider transportation risk,” Buchser said.
“This decision is a perfect example and a lesson for the citizens of New Mexico and the United States of how the NRC process is shamelessly designed to prevent the public from participating,” Taylor said.
“It’s clear from the hearings across the state that the people of New Mexico don’t want this. They need to join forces and make that clear to New Mexico officials,” Taylor said. “State officials can pass and enforce laws that would require permits or other protections from the dangers posed by the transport of high-level radioactive waste to southeast New Mexico.”
The next step for Sierra Club is to appeal to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.