Earth Matters

Earth Matters / Karen Hadden

today27 February 2018 107

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Earth Matters co-producer and Gila Resources Information Project executive director Allyson Siwik discusses the latest proposals for high-level radioactive waste storage in southeast New Mexico / West Texas with clean energy advocate Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Austin, TX-based Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition as well as Vice-Chair of Austin’s Electric Utility Commission.

Karen has led statewide campaigns to reduce toxic mercury and other coal plant pollutants; she’s halted permitting of 17 proposed Texas coal plants and stopped the licensing of 2 new nuclear reactors in south Texas in addition to working to halt radioactive waste dumping in Texas and New Mexico.

Our country – indeed, the world – has yet to find a solution for disposal of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. Efforts to develop a centralized Nuclear Waste Repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada have been unsuccessful. There are two new proposals to transport high-level radioactive waste from around the country and store it in facilities located in southeast NM and west Texas. Yet the extremely high risks of accidents and terrorist attacks from shipping this dangerous waste by rail or truck are unacceptable. Are there less risky options available to us for dealing with the high-level radioactive waste problem?

More information:

Public Hearings may soon be held on the Holtec proposal for a consolidated interim storage facility for high-level radioactive waste to be located in southeast NM. Meetings will be held in Hobbs and Carlsbad, possibly in mid-April.  

Stay tuned for full details. Please plan to attend and help spread the word! 

To become involved please contact Alliance for Environmental Strategies


To download a petition you can use to gather signatures: (attached below)


Key Facts:

  • Holtec and Eddy Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) seek to build a high-level radioactive waste storage facility just between Hobbs and Carlsbad, NM, where they want to store 100,000 metric tons of this dangerous waste for up to 120 years – 40 years through initial licensing and 80 years for license extensions. Holtec hopes to begin construction in 2020 and complete Phase 1 in 1.5 years, with operation beginning in 2022.
  • Holtec plans for a nationwide dump. 78,000 metric tons irradiated fuel have already been produced by U.S. nuclear reactors, so Holtec’s application would cover every bit of what has already been produced, plus all that is likely to be generated by today’s reactors by the time they close.
  • If the NRC approves the license, thousands of shipments of deadly radioactive waste would move across the nation for over 20 years, posing risks from accidents, leaks and terrorist actions.
  • Some radiation would leak from transport containers. The NRC says that this the amount is minimal, but there could be impacts for those along transport routes or for someone who gets stuck next to a train.
  • If New Mexico or Texas accepts deadly high-level radioactive waste for storage, the sites would likely become de facto permanent disposal sites for the whole country.  Utilities would no longer be lobbying for a final repository and thus Congress wouldn’t fund one. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) raised this issue in their 2014 report on high-level radioactive waste.
  • We can predict transportation routes, but they wouldn’t actually be designated and approved by USDOT and the NRC until 2022, when licensing could be complete.  Citizens and policymakers need to know the routes before a decision to license radioactive consolidated radioactive waste storage is made.
  • High-level radioactive waste must remain isolated from living things for thousands of years. It is mainly irradiated (spent) fuel rods from nuclear reactors, which still contain most of their original uranium, as well as with radioactive strontium, cesium and plutonium, which are created during the reactor fission process. Plutonium remains dangerous for over a quarter of a million years. Inhaling it causes cancer.
  • About 100,000 metric tons of irradiated fuel will have been generated by existing U.S. reactors by the time they cease operating, with roughly 1000 metric tons of plutonium. If separated, that’s enough plutonium for 120,000 nuclear bombs.
  • A report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), acknowledges the vulnerability of radioactive waste to sabotage during transport, and that “consequences due to sabotage or accidents are also higher during transport since the waste may be near population centers.
  • DOE calculated that train transport would have an accident rate of 1 in 10,000 shipments. At least one train accident was expected to occur if transport was mainly by train. Over 10,000 shipments were anticipated for Yucca Mountain.
  • A DOE report found that a severe accident involving one radioactive waste cask that released only a small amount of waste would contaminate a 42-square mile area, with cleanup costs exceeding $620 million in a rural area. Clean up in an urban area would be time consuming. It could cost up to $9.5 billion to raze and rebuild the most heavily contaminated square mile.
  • Each railcar of high-level radioactive waste would carry roughly the amount of plutonium that was contained in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. (not in bomb grade form)

Photo from Andrews hearing on Waste Control Specialists' high-level radioactive waste storage proposal.
Photo from Andrews hearing on Waste Control Specialists’ high-level radioactive waste storage proposal.

Distribute and sign the petition.  Click these links to download.

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Earth Matters / Karen Hadden

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