New Mexico says no to storing spent nuclear fuel while Biden says nuclear energy: ‘The trouble is it’s an eternal decision’

New Mexico’s governor on Friday signed legislation aimed at keeping spent nuclear fuel produced at commercial U.S. nuclear power plants from being shipped to the state, just hours after the measure repealed the last legislative hurdle.

Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham wasted no time in adding her signature after the New Mexico House voted 35-28 in favor of the bill after a lengthy debate. Five Democrats joined Republicans in opposition, arguing the measure would challenge long-standing federal authority over nuclear safety issues and lead to new court challenges.

the bill from Democratic state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, of Las Cruces, affects a proposed multibillion-dollar facility in southeastern New Mexico with the capacity to temporarily store 8,680 metric tons of spent uranium fuel. Future expansion will provide space for as many as 10,000 canisters of spent fuel over six decades.

the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may announce soon a decision on whether to grant a license for the project led by Holtec International, which has spent approximately $80 million over the past eight years in the approval process.

Lujan Grisham and members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation expressed strong opposition to the construction of the facility along the Texas state border. Both states sued the federal government over the issue, and top elected officials in Texas were unsuccessful in their efforts to stop a similar facility in neighboring Andrews County from being licensed.

If a license is granted for the complex in New Mexico, it still needs permits from the state Department of the Environment. That’s where critics say the state can rely on the law and stop the project.

Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat, argued that there is no incentive for states with nuclear power plants to find permanent solutions for dealing with spent fuel. As long as New Mexico is seen as an option, those states won’t worry about the long-term effects, he said.

“The problem is that it’s an eternal decision. We’re not going to decide, oh, we’re not going to do it and take it,” said Chasey. “So think about the fact that if it’s a useful and good thing, then the states that do it have it near their facilities.”

According to the US Department of Energy, nuclear reactors across the country produce more than 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste a year, much of which remains in place because there is nowhere to put it.

Since the federal government failed to build a permanent repository, it reimburses utilities in the house of fuel. That cost is expected to reach tens of billions of dollars over the next decade, according to a review by independent government auditors.

The fuel sits in temporary storage facilities in nearly three dozen states, either in steel-lined concrete water tanks or in steel and concrete containers known as casks.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is talking about revising recommendations made a decade ago by a blue-ribbon commission on America’s nuclear future. In November, his agency was released a request seeking input in the permit-based siting process to identify locations to store commercially used nuclear fuel.

Despite opposition from environmentalists, the Biden administration has identified nuclear power as essential to achieving its goals of creating a coal-free electricity sector by 2035.

Some lawmakers from southeastern New Mexico said local elected officials and residents would welcome Holtec’s project and that visits to some of the current storage sites near the power plants show that the casks are safe.

They also touted the safety of transporting the material by rail to New Mexico, saying armed guards would board the trains and that testing showed the casks would not release radiation in the event of a derailment.

The Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown, whose district includes the proposed Holtec site, said the region is now home to the federal government’s only underground repository for Cold War-era waste generated during nuclear research and development. a bomb. It also hosts a uranium enrichment plant.

The legislation sends a message to companies that “invest all you want and then we’re going to pull the rug out from under you,” Brown said. “And I don’t think that’s fair.”

However, some lawmakers have expressed concerns about the project because it will be located within the Permian Basin, one of the most productive oil fields in the world. New Mexico gets a large portion of its revenue from drilling.

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