The New Mexico Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit on Monday to halt the storage of nuclear waste in southeast New Mexico. The suit was filed against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the federal government to stop them from building a complex storage site for the nation’s supply of high-level radioactive waste. The complaint alleges that the NRC acted beyond the scope of its authority in licensing the proposed interim storage facility in Lea and Eddy County and is a danger to the community, environment and the economy. In particular, the suit cites that the storage facility will jeopardize the state’s water resources and agricultural interests in those counties.
New Jersey-based Holtec International planned to build the interim storage site where tons of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants around the country could be stored until the federal government finds a more permanent solution. The lawsuit cited the potential for surface and groundwater contamination, disruption of oil and gas development in the Permian Basin, one of the nation’s most productive basins, and added strain on emergency response resources.
A long-planned nuclear waste storage facility in the southeastern New Mexico desert was rushed through the approval process during the pandemic, according to New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, environmentalists and other opponents. The state contends that the NRC would typically have been required to hold public meetings, in which opponents would be able to voice their opinions. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, lawmakers asked the NRC to pause the hearings. A permit was granted anyway to Holtec International, despite the lack of public hearings. Attorney General Hector Balderas asked for an injunction to halt the licensing from moving forward and says the commission overstepped its authority. “It is fundamentally unfair for our residents to bear the risks of open-ended uncertainty,” he said.
Governor Lujan Grisham voiced her opposition to the site, saying, “Establishing a storage facility in this region would be economic malpractice. Given the potential for adverse impacts to public health, the environment and our economy, I cannot support the interim storage of high-level waste in New Mexico.”
The state’s Homeland Security experts also raised concerns about the site—specifically, the facility’s vulnerability and transportation corridors leading to potentially catastrophic events, including a terrorist attack. New Mexico would also be on the hook for training and equipping first responders for up to 120 years to deal with any mishap that occurs.
Read the lawsuit here.
Read more on the rush to store nuclear waste in New Mexico.