Santa Fe new Mexican “MY VIEW” – Tina Cordova: No more nuclear sacrifice in our state

“No more waste. No more wasteland. No more sacrifice. No more sacrifice zone. No more suffering. We’ve done enough.”

Santa Fe New Mexican, Tina Cordova | January 28, 2023

Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium Founding Member Tina Cordova, center, with other survivors at the Tularosa Downwinders vigil, July 17, 2021.

Many years ago, Jan. 27 was designated the National Day of Remembrance for Downwinders, a time to recognize the sacrifice and suffering so long experienced by those who were overexposed to radiation as part of our country’s testing of nuclear weapons. The people of New Mexico were, after all, the first “Downwinders” any place in the world.

It would be monumental if our government would do more than set aside a day to remember us and actually take responsibility for the damage that was done to us. Holding the government to account is an ongoing fight that we wage every day with Congress — only to be told it’s going to cost too much. This, while they pass an $857 billion defense budget.

This year, as the people of New Mexico reflect on what happened to us more than 77 years ago, we should also reflect on what is about to happen to us today. A proposal is making its way through the federal government that would allow private industry to store tens of thousands of tons of high-level nuclear waste in southeastern New Mexico.

We cannot accept the risk of this prospect and must fight this effort with all that we have.

Why, you ask? Well let’s start with how industry is always going to assert that it’s safe to transport and store nuclear waste. That seems right — up until the moment of accident. Then, it’s catastrophic. Keep in mind that radioactive plutonium, which could be stored at the site run by Holtec, has a half-life of 24,000 years. The decisions made today to store high-level waste in our state have the potential to impact us forever.

On top of safety, there are costs to remediating a nuclear accident. The 2014 spill of low-level waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars and shut down WIPP for years. Private industry is not prepared to take on billions of dollars in remediation after a catastrophic event.

Holtec operators have promised to have insurance in place to take care of a potential catastrophic event. That would mean billions of dollars in insurance, which is an unreasonable expectation. Instead, the company likely would be underinsured for a catastrophic event. That would leave New Mexico with little choice but to spend millions in legal fees to obtain assistance from an insurance claim for cleanup. Our state and the taxpayers of New Mexico should never assume the risk of this liability.

I hear the representatives from Holtec talk about diversifying our economy by adding this storage facility to what we do in New Mexico. The truth is, there aren’t enough jobs out there associated with this project to offset potential devastating consequences. What good are jobs if you potentially risk your health and the health of your family? We cannot accept this waste.

State legislators should pass Senate Bill 53, introduced by Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, which would give New Mexico veto power over a high-level waste site. This bill finally gives a voice to the people of New Mexico. Right now in our state, few things are more important than the prospect of New Mexico becoming a high-level nuclear waste dump site.

No more waste. No more wasteland. No more sacrifice. No more sacrifice zone. No more suffering. We’ve done enough.

Tina Cordova is a co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium.

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