October 24, 2019 - 9:36 PM EDT
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Native American Pueblo leaders oppose nuclear facility near Carlsbad, Hobbs

Oct. 24-- Oct. 24--A group of Native American leaders opposed a plan to temporarily store nuclear waste at proposed facilities in southeast New Mexico and West Texas before a permanent repository is available.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors, which represents 20 sovereign nations in New Mexico and Texas held a meeting on Thursday where members affirmed their opposition to the projects, read a Monday news release from the group.

Concerns with the transportation of spent nuclear fuel rods drove the group's opposition to two proposed consolidated interim storage (CIS) sites, one near the border of Eddy and Lea counties in New Mexico and another in Andrews, Texas.

The New Mexico site, proposed by Holtec International, would store up to 120,000 metric tons of nuclear waste while the Texas facility proposed by Waste Control Specialists in a joint venture with French nuclear energy company Orano would hold 40,000 metric tons.

Both facilities would likely bring the waste to the CIS facilities from generators sites across the country via rail.

The Council cited a lack of consultation with federally-recognized tribes, as the transportation routes could cross tribal land, and called for a denial of federal licenses for both from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Tribal organizations should be consulted on the routes, along with training and infrastructure regarding emergency preparedness and response in case of train derailment or other incident, read the release.

The resolution also called for a risk management plan for tribal communities should a radiological release occur and demanded "government-to-government" communication with Pueblos and federal regulators while calling on New Mexico lawmakers for support.

Council Chairman E. Paul Torres said the CIS concept could expose Pueblo communities to the risks of nuclear waste and radiation for decades.

The Navajo Nation already pointed to uranium mining in the Four Corners region of northwest New Mexico as responsible for exposing Native Americans to radiation, and the Nation reached a $600 million settlement with the United States in 2017 to clean up 94 abandoned mines.

Torres worried sacred land was threatened by further nuclear activity in the state.

"We are very concerned that this project, proposing the transport of nuclear material currently stored at 80 commercial reactors in 35 states across the country, lacks meaningful consultation afforded our Pueblos and subjects our communities, environment, and sacred sites to unimaginable risk over many decades," he said.

U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland, herself a member of the Laguna Pueblo in central New Mexico, said she stood by the Council in opposing the projects, as she said the U.S. continued to fail in cleaning up the uranium mine sites.

"Every community deserves to live free from the impacts of radiation, but transportation of nuclear materials puts native communities at risk of radiation contamination along the route to Holtec's proposed storage facility," Haaland said. "Our communities have already borne the brunt of the nuclear fuel cycle, and this country is still failing to address those contaminated sites.

"I stand with the All Pueblo Council of Governors to protect our resources and our families from the brutal consequences of storing nuclear materials at a temporary facility New Mexico or Texas."

Holtec spokesman Joseph Delmar said the company intends to work with tribal groups across the country to address their concerns during the ongoing NRC licensing process.

'Holtec will continue to communicate with Tribal Nations as the process proceeds," he said.

"Holtec agrees that the Council and all New Mexico Sovereign Indian Tribes should be included in government to government consultation regarding transportation routes and emergency management preparedness, as should all New Mexico counties and local communities.

New Mexico, local leaders debate proposal

The Council joined New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard and numerous environmental groups in opposition of the facilities.

The Cities of Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Bernalillo passed similar resolutions against CIS in New Mexico.

The City of Carlsbad and Eddy County along with The City of Hobbs and Lea County -- in the area where the site would actually be built -- passed resolutions in support.

"This interim storage facility will generate jobs and revenue in this state and maintain the diversity of Carlsbad's economy, which has always been vital," said Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway at a July meeting where the City Council voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

"We believe the Holtec project is extremely safe and presents no danger to our other industries. We look forward to meeting with the governor and other officials to further explain the interim storage process."

Lujan Grisham worried the idea of storing high-level nuclear waste in the area, where oil and gas production grew dramatically in recent years and created more than $1 billion in surplus funds for the State, could threaten other industries included extraction and agriculture.

She wrote a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, arguing that the facilities would put local industry and communities at risk, calling their approval "economic malpractice."

"The interim storage of high-level radioactive waste poses significant and unacceptable risks to New Mexicans, our environment and our economy," Lujan Grisham wrote. "Furthermore, the absence of a permanent, high-level radioactive waste repository creates even higher levels of risk and uncertainty around any proposed interim storage site.

"Any disruption of agriculture or oil and gas activities as a result of a perceived or actual incident would catastrophic to New Mexico and any steps toward siting such a project could cause a decrease in investment in two of our state's biggest industries."

Pierre Oneid, Holtec senior vice president and chief nuclear officer said any opposition to the project was based on emotion, and not facts.

He said Holtec already holds several licenses with the NRC and nuclear waste was transported across the country for decades without incident.

"The main opposition we see will come from people who are just opposed to all nuclear, and most of them are out of state," he said. "Any chance they have to fly the anti-nuclear flag, they'll do it. I hope New Mexico can see through it, and allow the economic development."

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.


Source: Tribune Regional (October 24, 2019 - 9:36 PM EDT)

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