The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is one step closer to issuing a license to Holtec International for an interim nuclear waste storage facility on private land between Carlsbad and Hobbs.
The agency released a final environmental assessment Wednesday that says the project’s first phase would have minimal impacts on land, oil and gas and livestock operations and public health.
Holtec is planning an initial $230 million facility under a 40-year license to store spent nuclear fuel in 500 stainless-steel canisters.
The NRC recommends issuing a license to Holtec based on the environmental review.
Even if an accident happened during transit of the waste, releases of spent nuclear fuel “would not be expected” from the proposed shipments, according to the assessment.
Southeast New Mexico officials praised the announcement as a boon for the region’s energy industry.
“Holtec has been a true partner on this important project, and we look forward to continuing to work together to bring jobs and economic growth to the area,” said Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway.
But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has strong objections to the facility.
Lujan Grisham accused the NRC of “choosing profit over public interest.”
“The NRC has unilaterally decided to house the nation’s spent nuclear fuel in New Mexico, despite the fact that our state has not one nuclear power plant within its borders,” she said.
New Mexico is suing the NRC over the project.
The state alleges that the federal agency is rushing the approval process.
The U.S. has yet to approve or build a permanent site for the nation’s nuclear waste.
Holtec would ship waste by rail from nuclear power plants to the 1,000-acre New Mexico site.
The first phase could store up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium.
Texas is also opposed to an interim storage facility in that state.
A bill that failed to pass the state legislature this year would have prevented New Mexico regulators from issuing Holtec permits for industrial wastewater and construction even if the NRC approved the license.
Lujan Grisham said that New Mexico will not become a nuclear waste “dumping ground.”
“My message to the state Legislature is clear: deliver a proposal to my desk that protects New Mexico from becoming the de facto home of the country’s spent nuclear fuel and it will have my full support,” the governor said.