New Mexico land boss concerned with nuclear waste proposal


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says southeastern New Mexico, which is home to one of the world’s most prolific oil and gas basins, is not the right place for storing spent nuclear fuel.

In a letter to Holtec International, she outlined her concerns about plans to build a multibillion-dollar facility that would be capable of temporarily storing tons of high-level radioactive waste from commercial reactors around the U.S.

Nearly 2,500 oil and gas wells and other mineral developments operated by dozens of different businesses are located within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius of the proposed site. Garcia Richard contends that storing the waste above active oil, gas and mining operations raises serious safety concerns.

She accused the company of not addressing the potential safety issues and suggested that it hasn’t been forthcoming in its filings with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is considering whether to issue a 40-year license for the facility.

“There is no guarantee that high-level nuclear waste can be safely transported to and through New Mexico. There is no guarantee that there won’t be a hazardous interaction between the storage site and nearby oil, gas and mining activities. There is no guarantee that this site will truly be ‘interim’ and won’t become the permanent dumping ground for our nation’s nuclear waste,” she said in a statement.

Holtec International has argued that the federal government has unmet obligations to find a permanent solution for dealing with the tons of waste building up at nuclear power plants and the proposed facility is needed.

The company says the site — about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Carlsbad — is remote and geologically stable.

Nearby is the federal government’s only underground repository for radioactive waste left over from years of bomb-making and nuclear research.

Local elected leaders and members of the business community in the Carlsbad area have lobbied on behalf of Holtec.

Garcia Richard’s criticism follows that of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who wrote to federal officials earlier this month to express her opposition to the project. The governor also cited potential negative effects on the region’s economy and environment.

The State Land Office oversees millions of acres of trust land, earning revenues from oil and gas, grazing and other activities on those lands. Those revenues support help to public education.

The land where Holtec plans to build the facility is owned by the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance. However, the mineral rights belong to the Land Office.

Garcia Richard alleges that Holtec falsely claimed to have secured agreements from oil and gas operators to restrict activities and specifically assured federal regulators that drilling would only occur at certain depths.

State officials say there are no such agreements containing these restrictions in place with lessees or the Land Office.

The land commissioner said in her letter that Holtec’s filing have ignored her agency’s legal interest in the site.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association, the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau and the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association also have concerns about the proposal.

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