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« J.F. Lehman & Company takes over bankrupt Waste Control Specialists, LLC | Main | Groups plan opposition to proposed nuclear fuel site »
Wednesday
Dec132017

Don't Waste New Mexico! Don't Waste Texas! Don't Waste Nevada! Don't Waste America!

Beyond Nuclear has been honored and privileged to spend the past two weeks in New Mexico, with anti-nuclear colleagues and allies. We participated in, and presented at, a symposium entitled "Dismantling the Nuclear Beast: Connecting Local Work to the National Movement." It was organized by the Nuclear Issues Study Group at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque on Dec. 1-3. We also took part in, and presented at, a large grassroots gathering in Roswell, NM focused on stopping the irradiated nuclear fuel "centralized interim storage site" targeted at southeast NM on Dec. 9.

We can report back that, in addition to military trans-uranic (plutonium, americium) disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, NM, many New Mexicans are none too keen on also becoming the commercial irradiated nuclear fuel "parking lot" surface storage dumping ground for the entire U.S.

120,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel -- 40,000 metric tons more than currently exists in the U.S. -- are proposed to be "temporarily stored" at the Holtec/Eddy-Lea [Counties] Energy Alliance (ELEA) site, not far from WIPP in southeast New Mexico.

The Holtec/ELEA "centralized interim storage facility" (CISF), or "monitored retrievable storage (MRS) site," Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing proceeding will very likely begin, in earnest, early next year. Once NRC staff docket (that is, declare complete enough to proceed with) Holtec/ELEA's CISF/MRS license application, the licensing proceeding will begin.

Our side will have 45 short days to submit environmental scoping comments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and 60 short days to establish legal standing, file safety and environmental contentions, and otherwise intervene against the scheme, or else forever hold our peace. Even if we meet such insanely short deadlines, and clear such high hurdles, we will undoubtedly face a very daunting, protracted battle. Along with our local grassroots environmental allies, we will not shy away, but will meet the many challenges, head on!

The Holtec/ELEA CISF licensing proceeding could well run concurrently with the resumption of another, overlapping, also daunting NRC licensing proceeding -- for yet another proposed parking lot dump, for 40,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel -- targeted at Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS) in Andrews County, Texas.

WCS is immediately upon the border of New Mexico, just 5 miles or so from Eunice, NM. WCS already "serves" as a national, so-called "low" level radioactive waste dump. It specializes in storing or burying some of the "hottest," most hazardous radioactive waste streams in the U.S., including the Fernald, Ohio K65 Belgian Congo uranium ore wastes from the Manhattan Project, potentially bursting barrel of trans-uranium waste from Los Alamos National Lab, etc. WCS is a mere 38 miles from Holtec/ELEA, and happens to be located either very near to, or even directly above, the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala underlies eight states. It provides vital drinking and irrigation water to many millions of people, from Texas and New Mexico, up through the Great Plains, all the way to South Dakota.

As shown by the New Mexico Threats Map, prepared by Sacred Trust NM, the "Land of Enchantment" suffers plenty enough already from: high concentrations of oil and gas wells (which emit technically enhanced naturally occuring radioactive material, TENORM); existing and proposed Superfund sites; brownfields; coal mines and coal-fired power plants (which also emit TENORM); sites contaminated with depleted uranium and nuclear materials; sites contaminated with hazardous materials; active landfills; historic and current accidental releases from petroleum tanks; a large number of uranium mines; mine processing sites; trans-uranic military radioactive waste transport routes, and a national geologic disposal site (WIPP); impaired rivers and streams, as well as groundwater; areas with high concentrations of air and ground pollution; methane hot spots; areas contaminated with radioactive fallout from the July 16, 1945 "Trinity" nuclear weapon test blast; downwind contamination from the Valentine's Day, 2014 WIPP leak; and radioactive fallout from massive wildfires at Los Alamos National (Nuclear) Lab. Given the large concentrations of Native American (Pueblo, Diné, Apache, etc.) communities, Hispanic communities, low income communities, etc., this amounts to a severe violation of environmental justice (EJ).

The present attempt to turn the NM/TX borderlands into an even worse "nuclear sacrifice zone" -- vis a vis CISFs -- smacks of ever worsening environmental injustice, or radioactive racism. The immediate area is home to large Hispanic populations. The region is already badly polluted by fossil fuel (oil and fracked natural gas), as well as nuclear industries ("low level" as well as trans-uranic radioactive waste disposal, at WCS and WIPP, respectively, not to mention uranium enrichment in Eunice itself).

NM ranks towards the very bottom of numerous socio-economic wellbeing criteria, despite (or because of?!) 75 years of nuclear activities in the state, beginning with the Los Alamos National Lab during the earliest days of the Manhattan Project.

If constructed and operated, the CISFs/MRS sites in NM and/or TX could well become de facto permanent, risking eventual leakage of catastrophic amounts of hazardous radioactivity into the environment, as containers corrode and degrade to failure.

While the rallying cry in these states is "Don't Waste New Mexico!" and "Don't Waste Texas!", "Don't Waste America!" is also appropriate! This is because the opening of the NM and/or TX CISFs would begin decades of unprecedentedly large-scale transport of highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel through most states, and 100+ major cities. Whether by truck, train, or barge, these shipments would be very high-risk, due to the potential for severe accidents or attacks surpassing the shipping containers' design to withstand.

In addition to inadequate design criteria, widespread documented quality assurance violations (as with Holtecs) mean these containers are even more vulnerable to catastrophic failure, especially during transport.

As but one example of the nationwide impacts of these dangerous schemes, consider the Great Lakes region. Truck and train shipments within the Great Lakes basin could threaten downstream contamination, as via spills into tributaries, or downwind fallout onto surface waters. Proposed barge shipments on Lake Michigan would threaten the Great Lakes downstream, all the more directly so. The Great Lakes is an irreplaceable drinking and irrigation water supply (and so much more!) for 40 million people, in eight U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and a very large number of Native American First Nations.

H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, would authorize these CISFs. The bill is poised for a U.S. House floor vote. Americans need to urge their U.S. Representatives to oppose it.

If the CISFs ever did re-export the irradiated nuclear fuel stored there (some decade, or century, from now), another round of transport risks would follow, this time bound for a permanent burial dump. But that dump could well be right back in the same direction the irradiated nuclear fuel shipments came from in the first place -- making the entire high-risk exercise absurdly meaningless -- depending on the location ultimately chosen for geologic disposal. Nevada can be expected to oppose the Yucca Mountain dump scheme tooth and nail, rightfully so, as it has done for 30+ years.

As with the TX and NM CISFs, Yucca fails the basic tenets of safe, sound highly radioactive waste management/disposal: scientific suitability; environmental justice; consent-based siting.

H.R. 3053 would also expedite the opening of the Yucca dump (as by arbitrarily shortening the licensing proceeding), and expand the amount of waste that could be buried there (from 70,000 metric tons, to 110,000).

Tell your U.S. Representative: Don't Waste TX! Don't Waste NM! Don't Waste NV! Don't Waste America!

TX, NM, NV, and America are not wastelands, to borrow a phrase from Citizen Alert of NV, a phrase (and banner) still proudly proclaimed (and displayed) by the Native Community Action Council (NCAC), based in Las Vegas.

In addition, Yucca Mountain is Western Shoshone land, as affirmed by the US government in 1863, when it signed the "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley. The Western Shoshone have opposed the dump since it was first proposed, and still do.

The only real solution for radioactive waste is to not make it in the first place. Atomic reactors must be abolished ASAP.

For the waste that already exists, hardened on-site storage (HOSS) is the best interim alternative. For sites where HOSS is not appropriate, as close as possible (inland, to higher, more stable ground) to the point of generation, is the fall back.