Why should NM store nation’s nuclear waste?

April 3rd, 2020
Albuquerque Journal

By Laura Watchempino / Multicultural Alliance For A Safe Environment,
Pueblo Of Acoma

If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s conclusion that it’s safe to move spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants across the country to a
proposed storage facility in Lea County sounds vanilla-coated, it’s because the draft environmental impact statement for a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility submitted by Holtec International did not address how the casks containing the spent fuel would be transported to New Mexico.

It’s likely the casks would be transported primarily by rail using aging infrastructure in need of constant repair. But our rail systems were not
built to support the great weight of these transport casks containing thin-wall fuel storage canisters.

Nor was the potential for cracked or corroded canisters to leak radiation studied because an earlier NRC Generic EIS for the Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel assumed damaged fuel storage canisters would be detected during an intermediary dry transfer system or a pool. But Holtec’s proposal only addresses a new destination for the high-level nuclear waste – not the removal and transport of the fuel storage canisters from nuclear power plants to New Mexico.

Even transport casks with canisters that are not damaged will release radiation as they are transported from nuclear power plants to the storage facility, exposing populations along the transport routes in a majority of states and tribal communities in New Mexico to repeated doses of radiation.

Other issues not considered in the draft EIS were the design life of the thin-wall canisters encasing the nuclear fuel rods and faulty installation at reactor sites like San Onofre, or the self-interest of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance in using the land it acquired for a consolidated interim storage site.

Thin-wall canisters cannot be inspected for cracks and the fuel rods inside are not retrievable for inspection or monitoring without destroying the canister. NRC does not require continuous monitoring of the storage canisters for pressure changes or radiation leaks. The fuel rods inside the canisters could go critical, or result in an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, if water enters the canisters through cracks, admits both Holtec and the NRC. None of us are safe if any canister goes critical.

Yet a site-specific storage application like Holtec’s should have addressed NRC license requirements for leak testing and monitoring, as well as the quantity and type of material that will be stored at the site, such as low burnup nuclear fuel and high burnup fuel.

With so many deficiencies in the draft EIS, a reasonable alternative is to leave this dangerous radioactive nuclear waste at the nuclear plants that produced it in dry cask storage rather than multiply the risk by transporting thousands of containers that could be damaged across many thousands of miles and decades to southeastern New Mexico, then again to a permanent repository.

Interim storage of spent nuclear fuel at existing nuclear plant sites is already happening – there are 65 sites with operating reactors in the United States and dry cask storage is licensed at 35 of these sites in 24 states. But since the thin-wall canisters storing the fuel rods are at risk for major radioactive releases, they should be replaced with thick-walled containers that can be monitored and maintained. The storage containers should be stored away from coastal waters and flood plains in hardened buildings.

Attempting to remove this stabilized nuclear waste from where it is securely stored across hundreds or thousands of miles through our homelands and backyards to a private storage facility also raises some thorny liability issues, since the United States will then be relieved of overseeing the spent nuclear fuel in perpetuity. The states and nuclear plants that want to send us their long-lived radioactive waste will also be off the hook, leaving New Mexico holding a dangerously toxic bag without any resources to address the gradual deterioration of man-made materials or worse, a catastrophic event. It’s a win/win, however, for Holtec International and the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance.

Environmental justice footnote: When removal of uranium mine waste on the Navajo Nation was being discussed a few years ago, communities got this response from EPA: Digging up the waste and transporting it to a licensed repository in different states outside the Navajo Nation – which has always been the Nation’s preferred alternative – is the most expensive option. "Off-site disposal, because of the amount of waste in and around these areas, means possibly multiple years of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of trucks going in and out of the community and driving for miles."

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.

Opponents of nuke site near Carlsbad call for delay on permitting amid COVID-19 outbreak

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus
April 1, 2020

Opponents of a proposed nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad and Hobbs sought to delay the facility’s federal licensing process, arguing the COVID-19 outbreak would make public hearings on the matter unsafe.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other governors across the country enacted public health orders in recent weeks, calling on residents to stay in their homes amid the pandemic.

A coalition of 50 environmental and Native American groups wrote a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Tuesday urging the NRC – the federal regulatory agency considering the application for license – to extend the public comment period for a facility proposed by Holtec International from 60 to 199 days.

The public comment period, if kept at 60 days, would expire on May 22.

The groups also called on the NRC to host public hearings not only in New Mexico, but also in 18 other cities across the country that could be impacted by the project and the transportation of potentially thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel.

Holtec embarked on the licensing process through the NRC in 2016, and the Commission released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) earlier this month, noting “minimal” environmental impact from the facility itself or the transportation plan.

The company intended to build a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) in a remote area near the Eddy-Lea county line to hold high-level spent nuclear fuel rods at about 40 feet under the surface until a permanent repository is developed.

The U.S. does not currently have a permanent repository for high-level waste, and a project to build one at Yucca Mountain, Nevada was blocked by state lawmakers.

The NRC recommended, pending a final EIS and safety review, that a license be granted to Holtec to build the facility.

But members of the coalition argued the facility could pose significant risk to the environment and local communities near the site and along the transportation routes, risks that could not be adequately addressed during the pandemic.

Rose Gardner, a resident of Eunice just miles from the propose site of the facility, said holding any hearings amid the outbreak and subsequent health precautions would prevent adequate public participation and should be postponed until the virus is contained.

"NRC has set up some hearings in New Mexico for the public to comment on the Holtec (draft environment impact statement), but unfortunately these dates come at a time when the whole nation, including New Mexico, is under stress and even dangerous conditions which do not allow for the common folk to even go to the grocery store or a doctor," she said.

"NRC must stand down and postpone these hearings, as well as extend the comment period. The most vulnerable in our communities would be put at risk if these hearings were held now."

Coordinator of the New Mexico-based Nuclear Issues Study Group Leona Morgan said the proposal demands full public participation, which became impossible due to government orders to shelter in place to avoid spreading COVID-19.

She said all proceedings should be postponed until larger gatherings were determined to be safe.

"These dangerous proposals for CIS facilities merit full participation by all impacted peoples. It would be unconscionable for the NRC to ramrod this process through during this pandemic," Morgan said.

"Without full public participation, this National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process would lack legitimacy and credibility."

A similar proposal came last week from New Mexico’s congressional delegation.

U.S. Reps. Xochitl Torres Small, Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland (D-NM), along with U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) also called on the NRC to extend the public comment period on Holtec’s license application.

"In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we urge the Commission to delay any public meetings and to extend the 60-day public comment period regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Holtec’s proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility in southeast New Mexico," the delegation’s letter read.

"The recent guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control is that public gatherings should not be held at this time."

But John Heaton, chair of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance, a group of local governments from Eddy and Lea counties along with the Cities of Carlsbad and Hobbs, said the hearings could be held online and there was no need for a delay.

Heaton argued that an online hearing would allow more public participation by not forcing participants to travel, allowing more voices from a wider range of locations to comment.

“I’ve been led to believe the NRC will be hosting public meetings, but they might be more like webinars,” Heaton said. “That would be more productive, because people would actually have to put forward their arguments without all the interruptions and antics.”

He called attempts to delay Holtec’s licensing political and said a digital hearing would be more convenient for everyone on both sides of the issue.

"Is this one more of the delay tactics, or is it legitimate?" Heaton asked. "The fact that it would be a webinar certainly doesn’t prevent people from making their comments. It’s how business is done today, and it might not get any better.

"Allowing people to comment in a webinar would be more productive than just holding it at one location."

Victor Dricks, public affairs officer at the NRC said the agency was reviewing the proposed extension, and would make its decision publicly.

"We will respond directly to them after we review the letter," he said. "We make all our decisions public."

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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.

NorthStar: Vermont Yankee demolition ahead of schedule

October 18, 2019

By Susan Smallheer
Brattleboro Reformer

VERNON — Nine months into the demolition of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, NorthStar CEO Scott State says the project is already about six months ahead of schedule. He said the company has been able to make progress by "doing things differently."

State said the project was divided up into three, two-year segments, and that the company will complete the project ahead of the 2030 deadline easily and on budget.

NorthStar’s partner for the first segment of the project, Orano USA, is already cutting up the nuclear reactor’s internals and getting them ready for shipment to another partner’s waste site in western Texas.

State said he originally expected the job would be completed by 2026.

"I think we’ll be done well before 2026," he said Thursday during a tour of the Vernon site with reporters, giving an update of the $500-plus million project. "We are months ahead of schedule."

State said despite the pace, the company had recently reached 220,000 man hours on the site with no ‘lost-time accidents,’ which he said is a tribute to the company’s planning and safety culture.

"These are big logistical jobs," he said.

State said NorthStar was in negotiations with the town of Vernon about leaving untouched some buildings and components, as long as they pass a radiological survey. NorthStar’s administrative building, which sits outside the security fence surrounding the plant and the de-construction zone, is one asset the town is interested in, State said.

He said he hopes to transfer some of the "assets" to Vernon even before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission releases the entire site from federal oversight.

"This is the community’s asset," said State. "We’re not developers."

The plant’s intake structure on the Connecticut River is another item the town is interested in, said David Pearson, NorthStar’s vice president.


Vermont Yankee’s iconic dual bank of cooling towers are now gone, leaving a large field free of tons of debris, but still sporting a 250,000 gallon hole that was an emergency reservoir for the plant.

"We’ll fill it in," said Corey Daniels, a longtime employee at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, as he and others climbed up a now-vacant security tower installed in the hyper security days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and got a good view of the ongoing demolition and clean up of the 130-acre site.

In all, the demolition is expected to take at least six years, and possibly longer, and cost upwards of $500 million.

By comparison, Entergy Nuclear, which had owned Vermont Yankee since 2002, had estimated it would cost more than double that amount – $1.2 billion – and that included waiting 50 years or so to let the plant’s trust fund grow, and allow radioactivity to decay.

While nothing was under active demolition like the cooling tower project, which was completed in July, workers were busy moving large concrete and steel casks that would hold cut-up components of the plant’s reactor core – some of the most radioactive material, aside from the plant’s fuel.

The vast majority of the demolition will be shipped off site by rail. NorthStar rebuilt the rail line that served Vermont Yankee back when it was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, to carry heavy loads. The radioactive materials are labeled and put into either special shielded boxes and filled with concrete, or inserted into heavy-duty canisters for the trip to western Texas.

According to Daniels, shipping by rail is much more efficient and much cheaper than trucking.

On Thursday, workers were preparing one of the 17 large boxes that would hold the pieces of the reactor vessel internals.


At Yankee, it’s all about nuclear waste and where it will go.

The transfer of the nuclear fuel from the plant’s spent fuel pool into concrete and steel canisters was completed a year ago, shortly before NorthStar bought Vermont Yankee from Entergy Nuclear Corp., said State.

There are 58 of the giant canisters on the north end of the Yankee site, behind barbed wire and barricades – and guards. It will remain there for years, until the federal government acts to create either permanent storage for the dangerous, highly radioactive fuel (hence the security), or an interim storage site.

State said Waste Control Specialists, which he described as a partner of NorthStar’s, runs a low-level radioactive waste site in western Texas and has proposed building an interim storage site, a plan that is pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Holtec International, a competitor of Waste Control Specialists and the builder of the storage casks being used at Yankee, has a competing application for a nearby site in southeastern New Mexico.

State, who lives in Arizona during the winter, makes a point of coming to Vermont Yankee at least once a month to check on progress.

He said he expects the NRC to make a decision on the proposed consolidated, interim storage in about three years, and he said because the WCS site is owned by a NorthStar affiliate, Yankee’s high-level radioactive waste could be shipped quickly, rather than following a federal requirement of oldest-waste first.

NorthStar is hoping that the Vermont Yankee project brings it other nuclear demolition projects, as by State’s calculation there will be another 10 nuclear reactors shutting down in the next five years. NorthStar recently signed an agreement to demolish Duke Energy’s Crystal River reactor in Florida. That project is awaiting NRC approval, he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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.

Energy Secretary Perry says he is resigning by year’s end

October 17, 2019

AP News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced Thursday that he will leave his job by the end of the year, saying that under President Donald Trump the nation is nearing energy independence.

Perry’s long-rumored departure comes as he is under scrutiny over the role he played in the president’s dealings with Ukraine, the focus of an ongoing impeachment inquiry.

In a letter to Trump, Perry made no mention of Ukraine and exalted policy successes that have led to increased production and exports of oil and natural gas.

"The U.S. private sector is leading the world in energy production, exploration and exports," Perry said. "Today, when the world looks for energy, they can now think of America first."

Trump said Perry "has done a fantastic job" at Energy, "but it was time" for him to leave.

Perry, 69, a former Texas governor, has been energy secretary since March 2017, making him one of the longest-serving members of Trump’s Cabinet, which has seen huge turnover.

He was traveling with Trump to Texas when he notified the president of his decision aboard Air Force One.

Trump told reporters he "knew six months ago" that Perry wanted to leave by the end of the year. "He’s got some ideas for doing something else. He’s a terrific guy," Trump said.

Trump said he already knows who will succeed Perry, but declined to identify the person.

House Democrats have subpoenaed Perry for documents related to a Ukrainian state-owned energy company as well as his involvement in a July call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The lawmakers set a Friday deadline.

Trump has said Perry teed up the July 25 call, in which Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, who was employed by a Ukrainian gas company.

A spokeswoman for Perry has said he wanted Trump to speak with the Ukrainian leader on energy matters related to U.S. efforts to boost Western energy ties to Eastern Europe. It is part of a long-term effort to lessen the political control Russia wields through its dominance of the fuel supply.

The Associated Press reported this month that a circle of businessmen and Republican donors touted their connections to Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as they sought to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s state-owned gas company last spring.

The plan hit a snag after Zelinskiy’s election, but Perry took up the effort to install a friendlier management team at the company, Naftogaz. Perry attended Zelinskiy’s May 2019 inauguration as the administration’s senior representative and met privately with Zelinskiy. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Perry had disputed published reports that he was planning to leave the administration. He told a news conference in Lithuania earlier this month: "One of these days they will probably get it right. But it’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, not next month. Keep saying it and one day you’ll be right."

Perry, who twice ran for president before taking the job at Energy, has kept a relatively low-profile in his 2 ½-year tenure. He has supported Trump’s call for "energy dominance" around the world and pushed to bolster struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants. He said last year that a rash of coal and nuclear retirements was "alarming" and posed a looming crisis for the nation’s power grid.

"If unchecked, (the plant closures) will threaten our ability to recover from intentional attacks and natural disasters," Perry said at a speech in Texas.

Trump, who has frequently promised to bring back coal jobs, directed Perry in June 2018 to take "immediate steps" to bolster struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants to keep them open, calling it a matter of national and economic security.

No definitive action has been taken since then. A regional transmission organization that oversees the power grid in 13 Eastern and Midwestern states said there’s no immediate threat to system reliability.

Perry has won plaudits from lawmakers for an easygoing style that reflects a life in politics, and he has frequently distanced himself from severe budget cuts to energy programs sought by the White House. He has toured Energy Department sites around the country, represented the Trump administration at meetings overseas and begun a years-long process to revive a shuttered nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

Before taking the Energy job, Perry had been subjected to widespread ridicule after forgetting the name of an agency he pledged to eliminate as president. That agency was the Energy Department. Despite that, Perry has emerged as a strong defender of the department’s work, especially the 17 national labs that conduct cutting-edge research on everything from national security to renewable energy.

"I’m telling you officially the coolest job I’ve ever had is being secretary of Energy … and it’s because of these labs," Perry told employees at the Idaho National Laboratory in 2017.

Trump denied reports that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott or Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy could replace Perry, but said, "They would both be very good."


Colvin reported from Fort Worth, Texas. Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.

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.

Plan to transport nuclear waste to West Texas draws concern

September 21, 2019

Perla Trevizo,
Houston Chronicle

A proposal to send high-level nuclear waste to West Texas may seem like something Houstonians shouldn’t worry about. But if approved, some of the state’s largest metro areas could be in the path of thousands of shipments of radioactive materials as they make their way from plants across the country.

Interim Storage Partners, formed by Orano USA and Waste Control Specialists LLC, is applying for an initial 40-year license to eventually store 40,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel in an existing facility in Andrews County.

Those in favor say it will save taxpayers money and provide a temporary solution to the decades-old impasse over finding a permanent storage solution for the country’s nuclear waste. But critics, made up of an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, ranchers and some in the oil industry, say the plan is not worth the risk of exposure en route to, or at, the storage site

So far, the plan appears to be moving forward.

The least risky path is leaving it close to where it is until a permanent repository is available, said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Texas-based Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition. “It makes no sense to ship it to consolidated interim storage sites. Why transport for this purpose alone and then transport again to a permanent repository? There is also the risk of creating a dangerous de facto permanent site, that should never happen because it could lead to disaster.”

They also call on Texas’ congressional delegation to fight the proposal. They have the power to stop the proposal from moving forward, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, with Public Citizen, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group.

Read more at the Houston Chronicle web site.