Work may finally begin sometime next year on the construction of a controversial underground nuclear fuel storage facility in southeastern New Mexico.
Under discussion for more than two years, the project will be built and operated by the Camden, New Jersey-based Holtec International, which specializes in dry cask storage systems.
As proposed, it would go up on roughly 1,000 acres in Lea County and, upon completion, will be capable of storing nearly 8,700 metric tons of uranium in around fifty canisters.
A significant roadblock to the project has been, at least for now, removed with a decision by the three-member Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to deny testimony from opponents of the project.
Those opponents have expressed concerns about a number of issues, including the possibility of environmental contamination from the facility, container leakage, and the safety of transporting the spent fuel by railroad to the facility.
In response to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board’s decision, the Sierra Club, among other groups, has announced that it will appeal the ruling to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the board and is ultimately responsible for licensing the facility.
As proposed by Holtec, what is described as an interim facility would provide a place for the storage of nuclear waste in casks installed some 25 feet below ground.
Because of what is supposed to be the temporary nature of the facility, those casks would theoretically be moved to a permanent storage location later.
Where that permanent location will be remains one of the other questions surrounding the New Mexico project: a proposed storage facility in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain was cancelled in response to local opposition a decade ago.
Altogether, the Sierra Club, along with several other groups, raised nearly fifty objections to the proposal, all of which were deemed inadmissible for the board’s evidentiary hearing.
By Garry Boulard
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