Sunday, June 14, 2020
CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) – A proposed multibillion-dollar complex in southern New Mexico that would store spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants around the U.S. is facing another legal challenge as opponents have filed an appeal in federal court.
They are taking aim at the federal government’s decision earlier this year to dismiss numerous contentions that watchdogs had raised about the project.
Beyond Nuclear’s appeal, filed in early June, reiterated concerns that the facility planned by Holtec International would end up becoming a permanent dumping ground for spent nuclear fuel since there’s no deep geological repository available to hold the waste permanently, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.
The nonprofit group worries that a permanent facility would not be available until 2048. It also claims that the licensing process itself is questionable because it considered the possibility that the U.S. Energy Department would take ownership of the waste – a move illegal under federal law unless a permanent repository is available.
“The Commission lacks a legal or logical basis for its rationale that it may issue a license with an illegal provision, in the hopes that Holtec or the Department of Energy won’t complete the illegal activity it authorized,” said Mindy Goldstein, an attorney for Beyond Nuclear. “The buck must stop with the NRC.”
New Jersey-based Holtec is seeking a 40-year license to build what it has described as a state-of-the-art complex near Carlsbad. The first phase calls for storing up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, which would be packed into 500 canisters. Future expansion could make room for as many as 10,000 canisters of spent fuel.
Holtec has said the U.S. currently has more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel in storage at dozens of sites around the country and the inventory is growing at a rate of about 2,000 metric tons a year.
Beyond Nuclear, the nonprofit group, worries that a permanent facility would not be available until 2048 and it contends that the licensing process itself was questionable because it considered the possibility that the U.S. Energy Department would take ownership of the waste – a move illegal under federal law unless a permanent repository is available.
The NRC reasoned in its April decision dismissing the contentions that Holtec expects the operators of the nuclear plants where the waste is generated to take title to it, unless the Energy Department is allowed to through a change in law enacted by Congress.
The NRC also argued that merely issuing a license to Holtec would not violate federal law ahead the potential transfer of ownership of the waste.
Beyond Nuclear argues that even considering that the federal government could hold title to the waste should disqualify the license application from being reviewed and potentially approved.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other elected officials in New Mexico have concerns about the project, pointing to the lack of a permanent plan by the federal government for dealing with the waste. The governor and others also have questions about whether the facility would compromise oil and gas development in the Permian Basin.
The NRC staff’s preliminary recommendations state there are no environmental impacts that would preclude the commission from issuing a license for environmental reasons. A public comment on the environmental review is scheduled to wrap up July 22.
In a statement, Holtec said it agreed with the NRC’s past decisions to deny the contentions of Beyond Nuclear and other organizations and hoped the company’s license application would receive support in the courts.
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