Nuclear waste bill advances to House, could push forward storage site in New Mexico
The meeting was designed to allow public comment on a proposed Consolidated Interim Storage Facility by Holtec International.
A federal bill to alter policy for nuclear waste advanced to the full U.S. House of Representatives and could support the case for temporary storage of high-level waste at a facility like the one Holtec International proposed to build in southeast New Mexico.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act was advanced by a unanimous voice vote to the House by the Energy and Commerce Committee on Nov. 20.
The bill, if passed, would move forward with safety licensing for a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, while providing the U.S. Department of Energy the authority to proceed with a program for consolidated interim storage (CIS) while the Yucca Mountain project progresses.
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It also prioritized the transportation of spent nuclear fuel from generator sites in seismically active areas, and ensured the DOE has the funds to build and operate a repository.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), the only representative from New Mexico who sits on the committee, introduced an amendment that was approved to create a grant program to study the impacts radiation exposure including family members and non-workers resulting from uranium mining.
“Though we have a responsibility to address the waste issues that result from our country entering the atomic age, I am deeply concerned that this bill makes it more likely that a future interim storage site — potentially one in New Mexico — becomes a permanent home for nuclear waste," he said.
Another amendment from U.S. Reps Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Fred Upton (R-MI) demanded that neither the U.S. or Canada could store high-level nuclear waste near the Great Lakes temporarily or permanently.
Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said the bill would allow the federal government to pursue the removal of nuclear waste from communities that host nuclear generators – often in densely-populated areas and large bodies of water.
“The Energy and Commerce Committee took an important step today towards ensuring our nation’s nuclear waste can begin to move out of communities that are home to a nuclear power plant,” he said.
“Communities across the country are expressing growing concern as more and more nuclear plants close, and this bill gets us closer to a real national solution for moving spent fuel to an interim facility and, ultimately, to a permanent repository.”
One such interim facility, proposed by Holtec to be built in a remote, desert area near the Eddy-Lea county line, drew concerns from New Mexico environmentalist groups as it could put local communities at risk as well.
Don Hancock, nuclear waste program director at the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque cited a clause in the bill that required the governor of a state that would host a CIS facility to consent before moving forward.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham voiced her opposition to the Holtec project earlier this year, calling it “economic malpractice” as it could negatively impact two of the state’s biggest industries: oil and gas and agriculture.
“The bill says you must have approval from the state’s governor,” Hancock said. “New Mexico would be a non-starter. She (Lujan Grisham) has said she’s opposed to it.”
Hancock said he also opposed the project and the bill over the suggestion of transporting the waste hundreds or thousands of miles away from generator sites where it is currently stored.
He said the federal government should work to fortify storage facilities at or near the generator sites, while developing laws to create a permanent repository other than Yucca Mountain, which faced staunch opposition from Nevada lawmakers.
“If it is too dangerous to sit in these communities, why should it go to other places?” he said. “If it’s too dangerous to have waste in these communities, Congress should shut down those plants. They’re making more waste.
“That’s a disconnect that many members of Congress don’t want to deal with.”
And if more spent nuclear fuel is being generated by the active nuclear power plants, Hancock argued that attempting to transport and consolidate the waste would actually increase the number of locations where high-level nuclear waste would sit.
Even if the waste approved to be shipped to a remote location like southeast New Mexico, Hancock argued it would take years for the infrastructure to be built and the waste to be moved.
“This approach doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “Why not do it in places that already have storage sites? It’s going to sit there for years. Let’s make that less dangerous. It can be done without massive transportation around the country.”
But Republican committee leaders said the bill was an important step in getting nuclear waste to permanent disposal at Yucca Mountain, and safely removing it from locations in 39 states where the waste sits idle.
“The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act ensures that we are following science and the law, both of which say that Yucca Mountain is the solution to the country’s nuclear waste problem,” said U.S. Reps. Greg Wald (R-OR), and John Shimkus (R-IL) in a joint statement.
“By advancing this bipartisan bill today, we are one step closer to delivering on a long overdue promise to address this national issue. Now, it’s time to swiftly pass this legislation through the House and Senate and get it to President Trump for his signature.”
More nuclear waste news
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- Environmentalist groups appeal federal licensing of nuclear waste facility near Carlsbad
- U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland joins opposition to nuclear waste site near Carlsbad, Hobbs
- New Mexico State Land Office: Holtec mislead federal government on nuclear waste site near Carlsbad
- Hearing: Critics blast Holtec proposal to store nuclear waste near Carlsbad
- Nuclear waste facility near Carlsbad supported by U.S. House vote