Search for:

Banner Drops Spotlight Nuclear Devastation in New Mexico

New Mexico, June 4, 2018

New Mexico Poor People’s Campaign

Stop Holtec

To mark today’s theme of ecological devastation being promoted nation-wide by the Poor People’s Campaign, activists in New Mexico hung two banners over I-25 visible to commuters heading north-bound from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, the state’s capital. The banners conveyed two messages: Stop Holtec and No Holtec No Nuclear Waste, both with the hashtag #nmppc.

Holtec International and the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance are requesting a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to bring more than 170,000 metric tons of high level radioactive waste from the nation’s 100-plus nuclear reactors (most on the East Coast) to a site between Carlsbad and Hobbs in southeast New Mexico.

The New Mexico Poor People’s Campaign emphatically believes that New Mexico has suffered enough as a national sacrifice zone at the hands of the nuclear industry, including abandoned uranium mines, the Manhattan Project, Trinity Test, plutonium contamination in the rivers downstream from Los Alamos, uranium enrichment, and hosting the nation’s transuranic waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. As one of the poorest states, and a majority minority state, New Mexico has experienced environmental racism for decades. People of Color continue to be disproportionately impacted by hazardous and toxic wastes.

No Holtec No Nuclear Waste
The New Mexico Poor People’s Campaign urges government agencies to keep high level nuclear waste at the reactor sites, where it is produced and currently stored. In only rare exceptions, where waste is located in unstable situations—such as at San Onofre—should waste be moved while keeping it as close to its place of origin as possible. The waste can and should remain where it is until a viable, permanent solution has been agreed upon by local communities. We understand that no community should bear the burden of permanent waste storage, however it is imperative to have meaningful dialogue throughout the country about the realities of longevity and dangers of permanent storage and transport.

We care for communities who live near reactor sites, and recognize the very real threats from radiation—that is why we must stop creating more high level radioactive waste. It is time to shut down nuclear power plants across the country and transition to renewable and sustainable forms of energy. Nuclear waste threatens current and future generations for longer than we can fathom. We must think about future generations when we choose our energy sources.

This is a moral responsibility and part of the greater movement for a moral revival. Banner drops are an example of nonviolent moral direct action, and we are willing to put our bodies on the line to bring attention to the issues that are affecting us all and to show the power of the people. The New Mexico Poor People’s Campaign urges our allies and supporters across the nation to resist Holtec International’s deadly and immoral proposal because it not only impacts us in New Mexico, but all people across the nation living along transport routes- which will likely pass by schools, hospitals, and community centers carrying the most radioactive waste on the planet. We all have a stake in this issue and in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Join the growing movement to break the silence on nuclear waste!

For more information, contact Samia Assed, Chair of the New Mexico Poor People’s Campaign or 505-999-8265.

Stop Holtec signNo Holtec No Nuclear Waste

New Mexico lawmakers hear arguments on temporary nuclear waste storage

May 18, 2018

By Tripp Stelnicki |
Santa Fe New Mexican

State lawmakers peppered representatives of a company and a local government consortium with sharp questions Friday afternoon over a proposal to bury spent nuclear fuel rods in southeastern New Mexico, expressing skepticism about the legality and safety of an "interim" underground storage facility that would sit halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs.

Most notably legislators on the interim Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee made clear they were not at ease with the lack of a permanent U.S. repository for the fuel rods, which would make New Mexico the de facto home of the nuclear materials until some other facility were established — a remote prospect lawmakers estimated to be several decades into the future, if it is to happen at all.

"None of us are going to be here in 40 years," said state Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, referring to the 40-year lease sought by Holtec International, the New Jersey-based firm proposing to operate the New Mexico storage facility. "And we know how the federal government works."

State Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, referring to nuclear materials spread across U.S. power plants, said, "We didn’t create this." The state is not required to take responsibility for the problem by taking on such a project, she added.

"It truly is not a temporary measure," Rodriguez said. "The reality is, 40 years, to me, is a permanent measure. The precedents it would be setting for New Mexico — what’s next?"

A Holtec representative and the leader of a regional advocacy group countered that the proposal represents a profound economic development opportunity and described it in almost patriotic terms — as the "missing piece" of the country’s protracted nuclear disposal dilemma.

"We think that because we have such a good site, it is really somewhat of a moral responsibility to relieve the pressure in other parts of the country where they are at significantly higher risk," said John Heaton, chairman of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance, an organization formed by the cities of Hobbs and Carlsbad and Lea and Eddy counties.

"This is the best, safest system in the world, bar none," he added. "There’s gonna be an interim storage facility somewhere, folks. It could be here. It could be in Texas."

Holtec and surrounding local governments want to establish the underground site near the border of Eddy and Lea counties, roughly 35 miles from any city. The thousand-acre facility, according to Holtec’s application for a 40-year license, initially would store up to almost 8,700 metric tons of uranium in thick vessels beneath the surface.

Stefan Anton, a Holtec vice president, said Friday the total storage capacity would be 173,000 metric tons.

The vessels, rising only 2 feet off the ground, would have minimal visual impact, Anton said, and are "virtually immune" to environmental disasters.

They are "designed to withstand crashing aircraft or an on-site fire without any radiological consequences," according to Holtec’s presentation.

And its regional benefit, Heaton said, would be a $2.4 billion capital investment and several hundred permanent jobs.

"We don’t go to Española and tell you how to run your economic development — or Santa Fe or Taos," he told the legislative committee. "People have to do what they have to do in their own areas to develop their own economic development. We found what we think is a great niche."

Republican members of the committee were generally less skeptical.

"I think it deserves our serious consideration," said Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad. "Not just as New Mexicans but as citizens of this country."

But the project faced some pushback from the primary economic development horse in southeastern New Mexico — the oil and gas industry.

Jimmy Carlile of Fasken Oil and Ranch in Midland, Texas, said he had some concerns about risks the project would pose to the Permian Basin region, including quality-of-life issues for oil and gas workers.

"This is a hundred-thousand-year potential screw up," Carlile said.

Former Roswell Mayor Thomas Jennings, a self-described third-generation oilman, said the recent surge of growth in the region’s oil business would be imperiled by the proposed facility. There are wells "within gunshot of this place," he said.

Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, urged talks between the project backers and the ranching and oil-and-gas communities.

"Oil and gas people are some of the most capitalistic people there are," Griggs said. "If it’s a good deal, I’d like to think they’d think it was a good deal."

Safe transportation into the facility — and back out of it, if a permanent repository eventually is established — was top of mind for lawmakers. The proposal envisions rail transport from nuclear sites all across the country into the Eddy-Lea site, the final stretch on a spur that winds past Clovis and Roswell.

"All New Mexicans could have this going by their house," said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. "Rail accidents do occur. This is a reality."

Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center pointed out that current federal law does not permit the U.S. Department of Energy, which would be the ultimate titleholder to the fuel rods, to enter into the sort of contract proposed by Holtec.

Anton acknowledged the proposal would require changes in federal law.

"What we are proposing is definitely not illegal," he said, though he added: "For operation of the system, which would occur in a few years, there are some legal things that may have to be resolved."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March said it had accepted the Holtec application for review. The review could be completed by July 2020, the company said Friday.

Holtec projects that construction could then begin in 2023.

The Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee will take up the matter again at a July meeting in Hobbs.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will take written public comments on the proposal through the end of July. Two additional public meetings are scheduled, in Gallup and Albuquerque, next week.


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold two more public meetings next week on a proposal by Holtec International and a local government consortium in southeastern New Mexico to build a temporary underground storage facility for spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants across the country.

  • 6 p.m. Monday, Gallup Downtown Conference Center, 204 W. Coal Ave.
  • 6 p.m. Tuesday, Crowne Plaza Albuquerque, 1901 University Blvd. NE
Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Holtec Pitches a Precursor to Yucca Mountain for Nuclear Waste

May 31, 2018

Bloomberg News

  • Proposal would move used fuel from nuclear reactors to rural New Mexico
  • Utilities looking for options as permanent storage site stalls
  • Local backers face opposition, hurdles in Congress

A proposed 1,000-acre project in southeastern New Mexico could temporarily address a question that bedevils energy companies, confounds policymakers, and polarizes communities: where to put the country’s most dangerous commercial nuclear waste.

The federal government is two decades behind its deadline to open permanent storage deep underground to put used fuel from commercial nuclear power plants. Leaders in southeastern New Mexico say they’re ready to keep the hot, radioactive materials that those plants want gone until a long-term solution is ready at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain or elsewhere.

Nuclear technology company Holtec International is working with an alliance of local governments there to pitch a project that eventually could store up to 120,000 metric tons of used fuel—more than U.S. nuclear reactors have created to date. Utilities such as Southern California Edison are watching to see if they’ll soon have an option to move waste off their sites.

Federal regulators are reviewing Holtec’s initial application to hold 500 canisters of used fuel between the cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs, near the Texas border. But a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission alone won’t be enough to launch the facility.

Backers must push Congress to change the law that governs national nuclear waste storage, or find another way to fund the project. Critics say opposition will prevent the site from ever receiving a shipment of waste in a state that has no commercial nuclear power plants of its own.

And New Mexico state leaders may change their take on the proposal, depending on who is elected in November to replace Gov. Susana Martinez (R). Martinez and the Legislature have supported the storage concept, though some lawmakers are asking for a closer look at the plan.

State officials currently don’t have enough information on its impacts to take a stance, said New Mexico state Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D), who heads a committee on radioactive materials.

"We shouldn’t start with the position of ‘Sure, why not?’ " Steinborn told Bloomberg Environment.

Site Near Other Waste Project

Camden, N.J.,-based Holtec is among the first companies in the U.S. proposing a central, interim site to hold the byproduct of nuclear energy creation. The waste comes from power plants that use uranium fuel to produce electricity until it’s "spent," or no longer efficient.

The fuel rods remain radioactive for thousands of years. Plant operators move them to steel-lined pools and later to dry casks.

The U.S. Department of Energy is responsible for permanent disposal of the rods, but plans to develop a facility at Yucca Mountain have stalled for decades amid vehement opposition from Nevada officials. Temporary storage aims to consolidate waste more quickly from dozens of sites throughout the country.

Leaders in two New Mexico counties say they have the perfect location. Their consortium, the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance LLC, owns more than 1,000 acres of dry, vacant land and solicited proposals for nuclear storage.

The location is more than 30 miles from the nearest town and close to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP. That Energy Department facility stores nuclear waste that’s trucked in from defense plants, such as contaminated tools and rags, in underground salt mines. Most WIPP waste isn’t as as "hot" as high-level waste; Alpha particles in the plutonium from it can’t penetrate skin or even a sheet of paper. But the WIPP waste is still extremely deadly if absorbed into the bloodstream and remains radioactive for thousands of years.

Sealed canisters of used fuel for the Holtec site would arrive in New Mexico by train in transport casks designed to shield radiation. The company would place spent fuel underground in individual enclosures that could eventually be moved to permanent storage elsewhere.

The storage facility is designed to be impenetrable, Joy Russell, vice president of corporate business development at Holtec International, told Bloomberg Environment.

"No conceivable natural or man-made phenomenon could actually impact the fuel," she said.

The NRC is considering an initial license that would let Holtec store 500 canisters for four decades. Twenty planned phases could eventually bring 10,000 canisters to the site, according to the company.

Holtec will fund the license process but needs a policy change or agreement with utilities to actually build the project, Russell said. Federal law doesn’t allow the Energy Department to pay to transport and store spent fuel temporarily.

Congress moved to open that door earlier this month when the House passed H.R. 3053. The bill, now before the Senate, would restart technical work on Yucca Mountain—which President Barack Obama mothballed—while enabling interim storage.

Lawmakers such as Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) say the idea of interim storage holds promise.

A private interim facility would be "the quickest, and probably the least expensive, way for the federal government to start to meet its used nuclear fuel obligations," Alexander, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee panel that funds the Energy Department, said last year.

Fuel Could Get Moved Quicker

Companies such as Southern California Edison also see promise in the Holtec project and similar proposals for their decommissioned nuclear plants. The utility owns San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located between San Diego and Los Angeles, which closed in 2013.

A group of California nuclear power plant owners backs options to help them relocate spent fuel, spokeswoman Maureen Brown told Bloomberg Environment in an email. The plants store their waste on site, which is safe but a cost burden for customers, she said.

Utilities throughout the country have sued the federal government for delays in opening Yucca Mountain or another permanent facility and leaving them to store their own fuel. The Department of Energy paid the industry more than $6 billion in damages by the end of fiscal year 2016, according to the Government Accountability Office.

An interim facility could be the fastest way to move spent fuel as work continues on a permanent site, Jon Rund, associate general counsel for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told Bloomberg Environment.

"You’re able to then redevelop those sites for other purposes," he said.

Possible Competition

The institute, the nuclear industry’s lobbing arm, is particularly encouraged by the possibility of competition for temporary storage, Rund said. A proposal put on hold last year in Andrews County, Texas, is starting again under a new partnership.

Nuclear services company Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists will ask regulators in June to resume reviewing an application to bring used fuel to a site that already stores low-level waste. The focus is on fuel from shuttered reactors, said Jeff Isakson, CEO of the joint venture Interim Storage Partners.

The projects would be welcome news to most people who live near the San Onofre plant, said David Victor, chair of the San Onofre Community Engagement Panel and a professor of international relations at University of California-San Diego. Spent fuel is the most talked about issue at the public meetings on decommissioning the panel leads.

The worst-case scenario is to have the legacy of the plant without its benefits, Victor said. But he said residents also don’t want to dump their problem on an unwilling community.

"Consent is really important," Victor said.

‘Land of High-Level Nuclear Waste’

No consensus on the Holtec project was apparent at a recent meeting in Carlsbad, a city that draws tourists to nearby limestone caverns of the same name. Nuclear Regulatory Commission members stayed late into the night to hear comments on the earliest stages of their environmental review, which its staff expects to complete in mid-2020.

Regulators need to consider a host of potential consequences, said Dan Hancock, director of the nuclear waste safety program and administrator at the environmental group Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque. Hancock, who opposes the project, said he generally thinks interim nuclear waste storage is unnecessary.

Current and Proposed Nuke Waste Storage sites

The nuclear workforce in the area has no experience with commercial spent fuel, he said. The safety record of WIPP, which stores a much different type of waste and receives shipments via truck and not rail, doesn’t translate, he said.

Proponents tout WIPP’s overall safety record, but opponents point to recent problems.

WIPP first opened in 1999 to permanently store waste from Cold War nuclear weapons production sites. It shut down in February 2014 after a fire and release of radiation, reopening again in January 2017.

A leak at the Holtec site could impact one of the country’s most productive oil and gas fields, while an oil and gas explosion could threaten stored waste, Hancock said. The country’s rail system can’t handle the heavy cars needed to transport spent fuel, he said.

"I think there is close to zero chance this facility will ever operate," Hancock told Bloomberg Environment. "Transportation would be very dangerous, and an accident would disrupt a lot of existing industries that are much more economically beneficial than anything that the Holtec site would be."

City councilors in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city, last week voted to approve a statement expressing opposition to rail shipments through the city, citing the transportation risks.

Other opponents said the project goes beyond New Mexico to impact anyone who lives near a transportation route. Even many area residents don’t know about the proposal, Rose Gardner from the Alliance for Environmental Strategies told regulators.

Gardner, of Eunice, N.M., said people who do know about the project are anxious about impacts on the rivers and lakes that give New Mexico its "Land of Enchantment" moniker.

"We are not going to be considered the land of high-level nuclear waste," she said.

Political Concerns

The state’s three gubernatorial candidates competing in the Democratic primary either oppose the project or want more information. Republican candidate Rep. Steve Pearce, though, said it could boost New Mexico’s national nuclear profile.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), one of the Democrats running for governor, voted against the House-passed legislation that would move Yucca Mountain forward because of her opposition to the Holtec proposal.

"This bill will only create more uncertainty by creating a dangerous loophole that could permanently strand nuclear waste in New Mexico without any guarantee that a long-term strategy will eventually be agreed upon," Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

Sen. Tom Udall (D) echoed those concerns, saying he wants a permanent storage site before opening a temporary one.

"If you open up an interim facility before you do a permanent one, you’ve just created a permanent facility," Udall told Bloomberg Environment.

Supporters Have ‘Nationalistic Spirit’

Supporters characterize the concerns as hype. The project is actually more benign than most industrial endeavors, said John Heaton, chair of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance and a former state lawmaker.

"It’s all of these ‘what ifs," Heaton told Bloomberg Environment, referring to critics’ concerns. "There are answers to all of these ‘what ifs."

Backers say they’re confident in Holtec’s safety record and casks tested to withstand drops, punctures, fires, and submersion underwater. Holtec points to all the nuclear waste already safely shipped by rail.

For southeastern New Mexico, the project means new jobs and a continuous cash flow provided through an agreement with Holtec, Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb said. That money could be used to keep steadier an economy based largely on oil and gas, he told Bloomberg Environment.

"It could level out some of those peaks and valleys that we have," Cobb said.

Holtec said at a hearing that the project would create about 100 construction jobs for 10 years as well as another 100 permanent operations jobs.

Other local supporters said New Mexico has a moral duty to help communities move their nuclear waste. Many said they are proud of WIPP and its role in cleaning up waste sites.

"We have this nationalistic spirit about what we’re doing," Heaton said.

—With assistance from David Schultz.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brenna Goth in Phoenix at bgoth(at)

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle(at)

Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a "fair use" of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use", you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.