No Nuclear Waste! We Dont Want It!

Feds Give Thumbs-Up to West Texas Nuclear Waste Plan

May 6, 2020

TRAVIS BUBENIK
Courthouse News Service

A view of an existing site in West Texas where a company wants to store toxic waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants. (Photo courtesy of Waste Control Specialists)

(CN) — A federal review of a plan to move highly radioactive nuclear waste to rural West Texas from sites across the U.S. has concluded that regulators should approve the plan because it would not lead to significant environmental problems.

The nearly 500-page draft report released Monday is a significant milestone that follows years of ups and downs on the proposal, which would involve shipping thousands of tons of spent fuel from the nation’s nuclear power plants to a remote facility on the West Texas-New Mexico border.

A company called Interim Storage Partners wants to eventually bring about half of the nation’s growing, problematic stockpile of high-level nuclear waste to an existing toxic waste site in rural Andrews County, Texas. Under the proposal, the waste would likely sit there for decades until the government decides on a more permanent way to dispose of it.

The company is a joint venture of the site’s current operator, Waste Control Specialists, and the American arm of global nuclear power firm Orano.

Environmental groups have long opposed the plan, arguing in part that it would threaten cities and towns across the U.S. as the waste moves by rail to the Texas site.

In recent months, the groups have hit dead ends in their attempts to fight the project in regulatory proceedings, with some advocates complaining that they felt unjustly pushed out of the debate.

In the draft report released Monday, staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the full commission should approve an initial 40-year license for the company to bring about 5,000 metric tons of nuclear waste to West Texas. If granted, the license could later be expanded to allow up to 40,000 metric tons.

The report concluded the plan would only cause small or moderate impacts to things like air and water quality, historic and cultural resources and public health, according to a 20-page summary.


A map of where nuclear waste would be sent to in Texas. (Image via Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
"After considering the environmental impacts of the proposed action, the NRC staff’s preliminary recommendation is issuance of an NRC license," the commission said in a statement announcing the report.

Karen Hadden, who leads the environmental advocacy group SEED Coalition and has fought the proposal for years, described the commission’s review as "woefully inadequate."

"The NRC does not seem to be taking health and safety and security concerns seriously," she said in an interview. "They’re just trying to ram this project though and it’s putting us at risk. There could be accidents, there could be leaks, there could be hijacking of radioactive material."

Hadden said her group continues to formally appeal its rejection from the regulatory proceedings. She said the group will push the commission to hold public meetings in cities like Dallas and San Antonio, where the waste could travel through, in addition to the several meetings the commission said it will hold in and around Andrews County.

While Monday’s report is a step forward for the long-simmering West Texas proposal, it’s still far from a done deal.

Regulators plan to take public comments on the draft environmental report, for a longer-than-usual period of time because of the coronavirus pandemic, and to hold an online webinar in addition to the public meetings. After that, the commission will work on a finalized version of the report and a parallel safety review of the plan that will be released in the spring of 2021. A final decision on the plan would follow.

Meanwhile, the same regulators are also considering a rival plan that would bring the nuclear waste to a different site in the same general area, but instead just across the Texas border in southeastern New Mexico.

Like with the Texas plan, a subset of the NRC recently rejected environmental groups’ protests to the New Mexico plan, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Politics could ultimately play into the fate of the nuclear waste debate as well, as it has before.

In February, President Donald Trump seemed to backtrack on his own administration’s attempted revival of a plan to dump the nation’s nuclear waste at a site called Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Obama administration had previously abandoned the plan after years of pushback from Nevada residents and elected officials.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has in the past voiced displeasure at the idea of expanding the types of nuclear waste that are stored at the Andrews County site, saying he doesn’t want Texas to become “the radioactive waste dumping ground of America.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report released Monday.

Copyright © 2020 courthousenews.com

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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.

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."

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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.

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Help protect your community from radioactive waste risks!

(Reference: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=NRC-2017-0081-0014)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) wants to change the rules by reclassifying several categories of extremely dangerous radioactive waste so it go into shallow burial, instead of deep underground as currently required for important safety reasons. This bad scheme risks radioactive contamination of our air, soil and water and must be halted immediately.

Send a letter now! Comment deadline is currently Sept. 20, 2019.

Send comments to: Rulemaking.Comments@nrc.gov
cc: Cardelia.Maupin@nrc.gov
Timothy.McCartin@nrc.gov


RE: NRC Docket ID: NRC-2017-0081

Dear NRC Commissioners,

Please halt the proposal to reclassify waste would create risks to our health, safety, the environment and the Texas economy. Reclassifying is a disastrous plan that would allow very hot Greater-Than-Class C and TRU waste to go into shallow burial pits instead of deep underground in a geologic repository, the less risky approach currently required for safety reasons.

This proposal would set in motion the plan to send the nation’s entire inventory of this waste stream to Texas. The amount of waste analyzed in the Generic Environmental Impact Statement was 420,000 pounds and 161 million curies. This massive amount of curies is more than 28 times the full licensed capacity of WCS’ huge federal waste pit and 41 times the full capacity of the adjacent Compact Waste pit.

This would be a huge increase in very hot material including irradiated metal from inside nuclear reactor cores. Shallow burial at the WCS site would be close to the nation’s largest freshwater aquifer, the Ogallala, at a site prone to temperature extremes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires and tornadoes.

Some of the radioactive materials, especially Technetium-99, can volatilize. Winds could spread radioactive contaminants into the air, soil and water, leading to disaster. If containers leak due to cracks or fissures various water bodies could be impacted, as TCEQ Radioactive Materials Division staff warned against when they recommended denial of the license for WCS’ low-level waste site. The bottom of the shallow burial for GTCC waste would be only 120′ deep, not 2000 feet or more, as it should be. According to WCS’ Environmental Assessment, 100,000 pound containers would be stacked up to seven units deep, putting them close to the surface, where radioactive materials could volatilize even more readily. Human inhalation would become a risk.

Shallow burial of highly radioactive materials in a region prone to earthquakes fails to meet the common sense test. One earthquake had its epicenter just 5 miles away from the site in Eunice, New Mexico. The Permian Basin is the nation’s largest oil producing region. What would happen if such a major oil supply became contaminated?

Transport of this massive poisonous waste stream through our communities for the unjustified purpose of shallow burial should be prevented. At least 33,700 truck shipments or 11,800 rail shipments of highly radioactive waste would occur, but the public can’t comment effectively since routes have not been set.

Please halt the changes that would reclassify GTCC and TRU radioactive waste immediately and ensure that it will only go into a deep geologic repository as federal law now requires. This law was designed to protect living things by isolating these dangerous materials deep underground. It is essential that current law remains in place in order to protect our health and safety, all living things and our economy.

Furthermore, please extend the comment period 90 days to allow for full analysis of the complicated technical and practical implications of the potential rule change and so that more people will have the opportunity to comment effectively.

New Mexico governor says no to high-level nuclear waste

June 7, 2019

Susan Montonya Bryan
Associated Press via Yahoo Finanace

In this Jan 7, 2019, file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks at a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M. Lujan Grisham is opposed to plans by a New Jersey-based company to build a multibillion-dollar facility in her state to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors around the United States. Gov. Grisham sent a letter Friday, June 7, 2019, to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, saying the interim storage of high-level waste poses significant and unacceptable risks to residents, the environment and the region’s economy. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s governor said Friday she’s opposed to plans by a New Jersey-based company to build a multibillion-dollar facility in her state to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors around the U.S.

In a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the interim storage of high-level radioactive waste poses significant and unacceptable risks to residents, the environment and the region’s economy.

She cited the ongoing oil boom in the Permian Basin, which spans parts of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas, as well as million-dollar agricultural interests that help drive the state’s economy.

Any disruption of agricultural or oil and gas activities as a result of a perceived or actual incident would be catastrophic, she said, adding that such a project could discourage future investment in the area.

"Establishing an interim storage facility in this region would be economic malpractice," she wrote.

Holtec International has defended its plans, citing unmet obligations by the federal government to find a permanent solution for dealing with the tons of waste building up at nuclear power plants.

The company says the four-layer casks that would hold the spent fuel would be made of thick steel and lead, and transported on a designated train with guards and guns.

Holtec also contends the site in New Mexico — about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Carlsbad — is remote and geologically stable.

Lujan Grisham’s stance marks a shift from the previous administration, which had indicated its support for such a project.

During her last year in Congress, Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, opposed changes to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and the possible development of a temporary storage facility in New Mexico. She was concerned that loopholes could be created and result in the waste being permanently stranded in New Mexico.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association, the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association all have sent letters of concern to the governor.

Several environmental groups also have protested the idea of an interim storage site for spent nuclear fuel. The groups raised their concerns during a hearing before federal regulators earlier this year.

Opponents question the project’s legality, the safety of transporting high-level waste from sites scattered across the country and the potential for contamination if something were to go wrong.

The governor’s letter came as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers whether to issue a 40-year license for the facility proposed by Holtec.

The company has the support of Eddy and Lea County officials, who have said the project would have economic benefits for the region.

Southeastern New Mexico is already home to the federal government’s only underground repository for radioactive waste remaining from years of bomb-making and nuclear research.

Municipalities elsewhere in New Mexico and Texas have passed resolutions expressing concerns about an interim storage proposal in the region.

Reams of documents have already been submitted to the regulatory commission, and the overall permitting process is expected to be lengthy.

A Texas-based company also has applied for a license to expand its existing hazardous waste facility in Andrews County, Texas, to include an area where spent fuel could be temporarily stored.

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.