A small group of nuclear waste opponents gathered Wednesday in Hobbs to protest the licensing of Holtec International’s proposed spent nuclear fuel site.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission set a May 29 deadline for public comments on the environmental impact statement for Holtec’s application to construct a subsurface site in western Lea County near the Eddy County line and store up to 10,000 canisters of highly radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants.
Unable to erect a mock “cask” cannister in the 25-30 mph wind at the Lea County Event Center, the half dozen protesters packed it up and moved indoors to discuss their views on the project.
Concentrating on transportation issues, Eunice resident Rose Gardner said, “We’re conducting the cask tour with a mock cask that approximates the size of what an actual cask would be. The problem with it is the load is so heavy that it’s going to be about 40 percent too heavy for the rail cars and the tracks.”
She said the added weight would increase hazards to all the communities through which the waste would be transported.
“We just want to draw attention to one of the many problems with the Holtec design and their plans to move radioactive waste through the nation,” she said.
Tom “Smitty” Smith is the director of Special Projects for the Public Citizen, a nonprofit activist organization, with offices in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas. He was the only attendee not from Lea County, but said people in the area should be concerned about the safety of the waste.
“People all over the country want this to leave their communities,” he said. “They want to send it someplace else. So, they want to send it to southeast New Mexico. If it’s so dangerous they don’t want it, why should people down here take it?”
A similar consolidated interim storage facility is proposed by Waste Control Specialists for locating in Texas, just across the state line from Eunice.
Smith and the others oppose WCS site, as well.
In addition to the transportation issues, Smith questioned whether the temporary designation of the nuclear waste storage, for up to 120 years, is realistic.
“The federal government has been looking for 35 years for a site for this waste, formally, and another 30 years before that. And they haven’t figured it out yet,” he said. “Once it comes to New Mexico, our fear is it’s out of sight, out of mind, and it’s never going anywhere.”
He pointed out the casks planned are designed for temporary storage, “not for storage for eternity.”
Smith’s final concern is economic in nature, noting that Holtec is a private company and, while the federal government probably would back it up initially, the money for clean-up would run out.
“The question New Mexicans want to ask is do we want to take responsibility to clean up waste that’s stuck in our desert that we didn’t generate. How is that fair?” he said.
Hobbs resident Pedro Aguilar said he’s looking down the road.
“I’m concerned about the future for my daughter, her children and their children. We have a wreck every other day here,” he said. “What happens if there’s a wreck on the railroad track and there’s waste on it. It could go terribly wrong.”
Additional fears expressed included potential hazards to oilfield and agriculture workers, as well as communities.
The NRC has announced a public meeting in Hobbs at 7 p.m. on May 1 at the Lea County Event Center. Meetings also are set for Carlsbad and Roswell.
Meanwhile, Gardner plans another gathering at Ranchers Steak House at 6 p.m. April 19.
Curtis Wynne may be contacted at .