A project, that could eventually see the $200 million first phase construction of a spent nuclear fuel storage facility on 32 desert acres halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs, has attracted the opposition of an array of environmental and nuclear watchdog groups.
Now, members of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board are tasked with trying to choose which of the groups, and their arguments, have standing when it comes to deciding whether or not the project should ultimately be approved.
The licensing board is a unit of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The Camden, New Jersey-based Holtec International in early 2017 sent submission documentation to the commission asking for approval to store 500 canisters of spent nuclear fuel in what is described as an “interim storage facility.”
Holtec, which specializes in the design and manufacture of parts for nuclear reactors, has noted that the facility would have a 40-year operating license, and that it would most likely end up spending around $80 million on just the licensing process itself.
The project early on won the support of a number of southeast New Mexico public officials, as well as the Eddy-Lea County Energy Alliance.
But a wide array of groups, such as the Alliance for Environmental Strategies, the Nuclear Issues Study Group, and the Sierra Club, have gone on record in opposition to the project.
Those opponents have expressed concerns regarding the safety of the proposed facility itself, which over time would be capable of storing up to 173,000 metric tons of high-level waste, as well as the location of the rail routes used to transport the spent fuel.
Holtec officials have emphasized the built-in safety features of the proposed facility, noting that the fuel will be kept in casts made of steel and lead and stored around 40 feet underground.
The process by which the project will be either accepted or rejected is expected to be a lengthy affair, although a decision regarding which groups will be allowed to have their objections officially heard could be announced in either February or March.
By Garry Boulard
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