The Jal City Council has voted to oppose bringing interim high-level nuclear waste storage in and around Lea County.
The council voted Tuesday night, passing the resolution 5-0. Mayor Stephen Aldridge said one councilor, Lorenzo Chacon, was absent and the mayor does not vote unless there is a tie.
“… the City does not support or consent to the consolidated interim storage of radioactive waste in New Mexico, or the transportation of high-level radiation waste on our railways or highways for the purpose of consolidated storage or permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste in New Mexico,” the Jal resolution states.
The vote took place at a special council meeting on May
29. The agenda also included a vote on Jal’s new budget and discussion on filling the Jal city clerk position.
The Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance is working with Holtec International on an application before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build an interim consolidated storage facility located in Lea County near the Eddy County line. ELEA is comprised of representives from Lea and Eddy counties and the City of Hobbs and the City of Carlsbad and owns the property in question. Waste Control Specialists east of Eunice in Gaines County, Texas, also is pursuing a similar application for its location in Texas along the New Mexico state line. Both require NRC license approval.
“I had three councilors come to me and asked to put it on the agenda,” the Jal mayor said about the resolution.
The passed resolution states radioactive waste should remain secured at or near the site of generation and only be transported once a permanent disposal site becomes available, cites birth defects and cancers as results of exposure to radiation, and cites the potential of accidents and spills that could contaminate “a 42 square mile area” and cost millions to clean up.
Councilor Mike Orr was one of the councilors who requested the resolution that opposed interim storage be placed on the agenda. He said several people, such as himself, had previously attended the citizen information meetings held in Hobbs about the project and came away from them unconvinced.
“I know it can bring a lot of revenue into Lea and Eddy counties, but I think our safety is more important than revenue,” Orr said.
Orr said the Jal resolution also was reflective of people who he and other councilors have talked to about the proposed storage project.
“It seems like there are a lot of folks who don’t know much about this,” Orr said. “Folks I have talked to don’t support it.”
Orr mentioned concern about the concept of interim storage versus it becoming long-term storage. He also pointed to transporting the waste to the proposed sites. The waste would likely be transported to the sites by rail car.
“That’s a scary thought right there,” Orr said. “We have train derailments.”
Hobbs mayor Sam Cobb, who sits on the ELEA board, said he was surprised to learn of the Jal council’s decision, but hopes the council is open to further discussion and presentations about the project.
“The NRC is going to site interim storage somewhere,” Cobb said, adding the ELEA site — as opposed to the WCS — at least allows Lea County to receive financial benefits of having the project in this area.
Cobb said he also is confident on the safety of the project, but reiterated his belief the NRC needs to do a thorough environmental impact assessment.
“If you look at the nuclear fuel cycle, this canister storage, in my opinion, it is as safe as anything that we do when it comes to nuclear fuel,” Cobb said.
The next ELEA meeting will be 9 a.m. Friday, June 15, in Hobbs in the Hobbs City Commission chambers.