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Holtec, ELEA review plans for nuke site

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Holtec, ELEA review plans for nuke site

LOVINGTON — Fewer than 10 people appeared Tuesday morning at the Loving-ton Chamber of Commerce to hear experts explain Holtec International’s plan for a spent nuclear fuel storage facility.

Holtec applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to establish a consolidated interim storage facility for the high level nuclear waste in western Lea County at a 1,000-acre site owned by the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance. ELEA is a coalition of Carlsbad, Hobbs, and Eddy and Lea counties.

At chamber executive director Leslie Boldt’s invitation, ELEA vice chairman John Heaton and Holtec’s vice president of business development Joy Russell presented the plan to construct and operate the $2.4 billion facility in two separate meetings Tuesday in Lovington, moving on to Tatum for a similar meeting with the city council.

Emphasizing the form of the spent nuclear fuel is solid, not liquid, Russell described a four-layer system of protection that prevents any form of leakage.

Heaton described the transportation system over rails, emphasizing the total weight is about the same as a locomotive and is distributed over the tracks on additional axles. Safety, he said, also is increased by track inspection before each shipment and limiting the speed to 50 mph over the best tracks, much lower on older tracks.

Lovington resident Melanie Boyden cited a U.S. Department of Energy estimate of one accident in 10,000 shipments and the potential for 42 square miles of contamination.

“What have we got in mind if this happened?” she asked.

Heaton responded the four layers of containment of solid material make it difficult for him to imagine any kind of release. In addition, he said only 1,000 shipments are planned, so the rate becomes one-tenth of an accident, assuming the DOE’s calculations are correct.

“There will never be a release,” he said. “This is a solid material that has four layers of protection and there’s just, frankly, no way for it to get out of it.”

Russell suggested looking at the Holtec website describing the Swiss government’s requirement that a missle be fired at a containment canister to test integrity.

“We have demonstrated that even a missle launched at it doesn’t breach the canister,” she said.

Lovington resident Joyce Williams asked, “If it’s so safe, why move it?”

Heaton explained many current interim facilities are in earthquake areas and the federal government is paying billions of dollars to utilities for failure to take the spent nuclear fuel away, as promised decades ago.

He emphasized an interim facility will be constructed somewhere in the absence of a permanent facility, but he prefers the ELEA site, some 35 miles from a population concentration, to another site at Waste Control Specialists in Texas, about 2 miles east of Eunice and 19 miles from Jal and Hobbs.

After the meeting, Williams told the News-Sun, “I’m very much against this.”

The NRC currently is evaluating Holtec’s application for a license to temporarily store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel from more than 70 nuclear power plants in the United States.

The timeline anticipates further public hearings in the summer of 2019, completion of the NRC review and possible start of construction in 2020, with first possible shipment to the site in 2023, Russell said.

Burkett Shaw
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