New Mexico lobbying to be storage site for nuclear waste

nuclear waste

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico is touting a rural area in the southeastern part of the state as an interim storage site for the country's high-level nuclear waste, according to a letter issued by Gov. Susana Martinez earlier this month.

The governor reached out to the Obama administration in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. In the April 10 letter, which was obtained by the Santa Fe New Mexican, Martinez urged officials to consider a 1,000-acre parcel as a place for storing spent radioactive fuel rods from power plants. Martinez also praised southeastern New Mexico residents for being able to "carve out a niche in the nuclear industry."

"Time and time again, the citizens of southeastern New Mexico have impressed me with their hard work ethic and willingness to tackle national problems that many others consider to be unsolvable," Martinez wrote.

Officials in Lea and Eddy counties are involved in the proposal. The site is about a mile north of US 62/180, halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs. The Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance, a consortium of city and county governments, says the potential disposal ground could bring jobs and economic growth.

"You've got to recognize, we're not a Santa Fe, and we're not an Albuquerque that has a self-sustaining economy. We're out here in the hinterlands, and we need to find our own niches," said John Heaton, a former state lawmaker and alliance chairman.

Others, however, have reservations about opening New Mexico to radioactive waste. Don Hancock, a waste expert with the Southwest Information and Research Center in Albuquerque, said towing volatile waste across the country could be problematic. With no plans for a permanent repository facility, a site in New Mexico could end up being the final destination for spent fuel. He also expressed concern that Martinez seems to be focused on just bolstering southeastern New Mexico.

"She certainly hasn't asked the people of the state what they think about it," Hancock said.

A spokesman for Martinez said in a written statement the letter was only a preliminary endorsement. Also, the governor wants to "ensure all voices are heard before any interim storage site is selected."

New Mexico is not the only state competing to be the interim dumping ground for nuclear waste. Waste Control Specialists, a Dallas-based company that handles low-level radioactive waste, has been making plans to develop a spent-fuel storage site in west Texas. The company has gotten support from Areva, a federal contractor owned by the French government that is also part of the consortium that runs the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Areva was previously backing the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance. But the two entities split up in a move that was mutual, an Areva spokesman said.

Last February, Waste Control Specialists initiated a request with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to seek a license to build a facility in rural Andrews County about 350 miles west of Dallas.

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