Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joins opposition to nuclear waste project in New Mexico

“The proposed sites in Texas and New Mexico do not provide the deep geologic isolation required for permanent storage in order to minimize the risks of accidents, terrorism or sabotage which could disrupt the country’s energy supply with catastrophic effects on the American economy,” Abbott wrote to the president.

BY:  | currentargus.com

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was the latest public official to oppose a proposed nuclear storage facility to be built near Carlsbad and Hobbs, along with another in West Texas.

ELEA/Holtec storage ground view
Artist Rendering of proposed ELEA/Holtec “storage” plan for commercial reactor spent fuel rods in southeast New Mexico

In a Sept. 30 letter to President Donald Trump, Abbott wrote that he worried locating high-level nuclear waste facilities in the Permian Basin region could put the U.S.’s most active oil and gas field at risk.

Holtec International proposed building a consolidated interims storage facility (CISF) to hold spent nuclear fuel rods temporarily in southeast New Mexico while a permanent repository — as required by federal law — was developed.

Such a facility does not exist in the U.S. after a project to build one at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was blocked by state lawmakers and defunded by former-President Barack Obama.

Another similar but smaller project was proposed by Interim Storage Partners, a joint venture between Orana USA and Waste Control Specialists (WCS), at a low-level waste facility owned by WCS in Andrews, Texas.

Abbott pointed to about 250,000 active oil and gas wells on the Texas side of the Permian and another 40,000 in New Mexico, while the basin produced a record 1.5 billion barrels of oil in 2019 and 30 percent of all U.S. crude oil in 2018 and held 40 percent of the nation’s proven oil reserves.

All that could be at risk, Abbott argued, if high-level nuclear was stored at the two locations.

“A stable oil and gas industry is essential to the economy, and crucial to the security of our great nation,” he wrote. “Allowing interim storage of spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste at sites near the largest producing oilfield in the world will compromise the safety of the region.”

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was tasked with evaluating applications for both the Holtec and WCS facilities for 40-year licenses and both companies expressed the desire to apply for future extensions.

Both sites would hold the waste at the surface after it was shipped in via rail from generator sites across the country.

Congress was required to develop a permanent solution to the nation’s nuclear waste, Abbott argued, but had not since the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed in 1982.

The proposed facilities failed to provide the storage and disposal capabilities needed to properly manage the waste, he wrote.

“The proposed sites in Texas and New Mexico do not provide the deep geologic isolation required for permanent storage in order to minimize the risks of accidents, terrorism or sabotage which could disrupt the country’s energy supply with catastrophic effects on the American economy,” Abbott wrote to the president.

“Because of the many risks associated with these projects, the lack of a permanent facility, and the importance of the Permian Basin to the economy and energy security of our country, I respectfully urge you to join me in opposing the siting on an interim storage facility in Texas or in New Mexico.”

Abbott previously voiced concerns about the project in an April 2019 letter to the NRC and the U.S. Department of Energy, contending it would add the increased risk of high-level waste to states that already store low-level waste.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also voiced opposition by writing letters to federal officials repeatedly since taking office in 2019 calling the project “economic malpractice” for the risks Lujan Grisham said it posed to the oil and gas and agriculture industries.

Her disapproval of the proposal was joined by the State’s top land manager Stephanie Garcia Richards, the New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands.

In a Sept. 22 letter to the NRC, Garcia Richard said that despite the Commission’s recently issued draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that found minimal environmental harm would be caused by the construction and operation of the site, she continued to have concerns about how the facility could affect drilling operations and ground water supplies.

Garcia Richard also argued the facility could become the “de facto” permanent repository for high-level nuclear fuel due to the planned license extensions and a lack of an expressed permanent resting place for the waste.

She said the State Land Office controls the mineral estate beneath the surface at the proposed location for the Holtec site and could not place restrictions on oil and gas operations in the area to ensure the proposed facility was not disturbed by such operations.

“Holtec’s proposed project is problematic for many reasons. The intended site is located in the middle of the Permian Basin, one of the world’s most productive oil and gas regions,” Garcia Richard wrote.

“Any production decline related to a work stoppage could be hugely detrimental to the state’s finances, which is heavily dependent on oil and gas taxes and revenues, as well as local economies.”

The project also saw opposition from oil and gas companies themselves.

In June 2019, Concho Resources and EOG Resources both sent letters to the State Land Office citing concerns of the nuclear facility’s impact on fossil fuel development in the region.

Concho Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs Christopher Boehler argued Holtec had not adequately studied potential impacts on oil and gas.

He said company held a lease with the Land Office for minerals beneath the proposed Holtec site could not support the project until it was assured there would be no risk to its operations or that of the industry in the Permian Basin.

“Until and unless Holtec conducts scientific studies and provides data supporting its proposed use of the subsurface without negative impact to Concho’s current and future operations underneath its oil and gas lease, Concho is unable to support Holtec’s proposal,” Boehler said.

“No operation is risk free and certainly not any operation handling nuclear waste.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.


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