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Opponents Request Comment Period Extension re: Holtec/ELEA Highly Radioactive Waste Centralized Interim Storage Site in New Mexico


For immediate release: May 9, 2018


Terry Lodge, environmental coalition attorney, (419) 205-7084,

Kevin Kamps, Radioactive Waste Specialist, Beyond Nuclear, (240) 462-3216,

Opponents Request Comment Period Extension

re: Holtec/ELEA Highly Radioactive Waste

Centralized Interim Storage Site in New Mexico

 Environmental Coalition Cites Need for Additional Meetings in Cities Hard Hit by High-Risk Road, Rail, and/or Barge Shipments of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A coalition of 52 environmental, social justice, and public interest organizations, has requested that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extend the public comment period on environmental scoping by 180 days, in the proceeding considering Holtec International/ELEA’s (Eddy-Lea Counties Energy Alliance) application to construct and operate a centralized interim storage facility, for 100,000 to 173,600 metric tons of highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel, in southeast New Mexico. The coalition’s petition to NRC (posted online at this link) also requests 18 additional public comment meetings across the country, in cities that would serve as transport hubs for the 10,000 or more high-risk shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel, by road, rail, and/or waterway, over the course of decades, from commercial atomic reactors, to the site in southeast NM located halfway between Hobbs and Carlsbad.

Thus far, NRC has held only four meetings: one at its agency headquarters in Rockville, MD, which had the added opportunity to call- or webinar-in; and three in southeast NM (Roswell, Hobbs, and Carlsbad), relatively near the Holtec/ELEA targeted site. Just today, NRC announced two more public comment meetings, apparently in direct response to a demand made by NM’s two Democratic U.S. Senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich: Monday, May 21 from 6 to 9 pm Mountain Time, at Gallup Downtown Conference Center, 204 W. Coal Ave., Gallup, NM 87301; and Tuesday, May 22 from 6 to 9 pm MTN, at Crown Plaza, 1901 University Blvd., Albuquerque, NM 87102.

By comparison, a significantly smaller proposal – the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, permanent geological dump-site, limited to 70,000 metric tons, only 63,000 of which is reserved for commercial irradiated nuclear fuel – had two-dozen public comment meetings, convened by the U.S. Department of Energy, in many of the very same transport hub cities cited in the coalition’s request letter to NRC.

“While the two additional New Mexico meetings are welcome, this is still a woefully inadequate number of public meetings, as compared to what NRC should be holding for a proposal of such national significance,” said Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear. “The high-risk shipments of highly radioactive waste would travel through most states in the Lower 48 en route to New Mexico, and so far NRC has held not a single public meeting in the scores of large cities that would be impacted by many thousands of shipments, over the course of several decades,” Kamps added.

The coalition letter requested as many NRC public meetings as possible in the following locations: Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Dallas/Forth Worth and San Antonio, TX; Detroit, MI; Kansas City and St. Louis, MO; Los Angeles, CA; Miami and Tampa, FL; Minneapolis/Saint Paul, MN; Nashville, TN; New York City, NY; Newark, NJ; Omaha, NE; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, PA; and Tampa, FL.

“One of countless concerns we have with the Holtec/ELEA proposal is that DOZENS of shipments from the Fermi nuclear power plant, bound for New Mexico, would have to pass, by rail, through the heart of metro Detroit,” said Terry Lodge, environmental attorney based in Toledo, legal counsel for Don’t Waste Michigan, which intends to legally intervene in opposition to the Holtec/ELEA application.  

“And that's only the half of it. There would also be 10,000 shipments nationwide of the highly radioactive waste, decades or a century later, supposedly moving the irradiated nuclear fuel on to an as yet unidentified, permanent repository,” Lodge added. “If, as the NRC holds, present on-site storage arrangements are satisfactory, why should we put Americans at such dangerous risk 20,000 times?" Lodge asked.

“Even routine, incident-free shipments would be like mobile X-ray machines that can’t be turned off, emitting hazardous gamma- and neutron-radiation at close range as they pass by, but there is also the potential for Mobile Chernobyls, catastrophic radioactivity releases, as due to container breaches during severe accidents or intentional attacks,” Lodge added.

The road and rail route maps prepared by Dr. Fred Dilger on behalf of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, in the context of the Yucca Mountain permanent burial dump proposal, are instructive regarding the Holtec/ELEA, NM centralized interim storage facility (also known as a monitored retrievable storage site, or away from reactor so-called temporary storage facility). The further east, or west for that matter, from NM, the more similar, or identical, would be the routes, by rail or road, between the NV and NM schemes. The Dilger routing analyses show that 44 states, scores of major cities, and 330 of 435 U.S. congressional districts, would “host” road and/or rail routes for highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel truck and/or train transport to NV. Dr. Dilger’s three reports, including route maps, shipment numbers, and congressional districts impacted, are posted online at the State of NV Agency for Nuclear Projects website, here.

“In addition to the high risks of truck and train transports of irradiated nuclear fuel, there is the specter of potential barge shipments,” Kamps of Beyond Nuclear said. “As but one example, barges on Lake Michigan, from Michigan and Wisconsin atomic reactors into the ports of Muskegon and Milwaukee, could put at risk the drinking water supply for 40 million people in several U.S. states, two Canadian provinces, and a large number of Native American First Nations downstream, if one were to sink by accident, or be sunk by terrorist intent,” Kamps added.

For this reason, two Canadian groups, drawing their drinking water from downstream of such high-risk shipments on the Great Lakes, added their names as signatories to the letter. They are Bruce Peninsula Environment Group in Ontario, and Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility in Quebec. (Examples of national and grassroots U.S. signatory groups are listed below.)

Reactors lacking direct rail access would either ship the 100+ ton Holtec shipping containers by barge (on multiple U.S. surface waterways, in many states), or heavy haul truck, to the nearest rail head, for transfer to train, for shipment to NM.

Despite this, no NRC public meeting has been scheduled anywhere in the Lake Michigan basin, such as Chicago, a city of many millions, the drinking water of which is drawn from Lake Michigan. In addition, the director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, Robert Halstead, has stated that 40% of all shipments bound for Yucca Mountain would pass through the Chicagoland area. So too, then, would shipments bound for Holtec/ELEA, NM.

The coalition letter was signed by national, regional, and local grassroots groups representing 17 states. National groups include Beyond Nuclear, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth (FOE), Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Public Citizen, and Sierra Club. Grassroots groups include several from New Mexico, the state targeted by Holtec/ELEA, including: Alliance for Environmental Strategies; Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping; Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety; Current-C Energy Systems, Inc., on behalf of Cooperative Catalyst; Los Alamos Study Group; Nuclear Watch New Mexico; and Sisters of Mercy. Significantly, many reactor community groups, fully aware of the risks of on-site storage with which they are burdened, also protested the environmental injustice of this centralized interim storage scheme, by signing on, including: Citizens Awareness Network of the Northeast, with members near the shutdown Connecticut Yankee, Vermont Yankee, and Yankee Rowe (Massachusetts) atomic reactor sites; San Clemente Green, near the San Onofre, CA shutdown nuclear power plant; Nuclear Energy Information Service of Illinois, the state with the most reactors (14) in the U.S., including Zion, the largest nuclear power plant decommissioning in American history, 30 miles north of Chicago; Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (CACC) and For Love of Water (FLOW), with members living in the shadows of the Big Rock Point decommissioned atomic reactor in Michigan; and San Luis Obispo Mothers and Grandmothers for Peace, near the still operating Diablo Canyon reactors. These reactor community groups, joined by hundreds more groups representing all 50 states, have long called for Hardened On-Site Storage, as close as is safely possible to the point of waste generation, as an interim alternative to such dangerous proposals as the Yucca burial dump, and the Holtec/ELEA de facto permanent, surface storage, “parking lot dump.”


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