ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s governor on Friday signed legislation aimed at keeping spent nuclear fuel produced by commercial U.S. nuclear power plants from being shipped to the state, just hours after the measure cleared its final legislative hurdle.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wasted no time adding her signature after the New Mexico House voted 35-28 in favor of the bill following a lengthy debate. Five Democrats joined Republicans in opposition, arguing that the measure would challenge longstanding federal authority over nuclear safety matters and lead to new court challenges.
The bill from Democratic state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, of Las Cruces, will impact a proposed multibillion-dollar facility in southeastern New Mexico that would have the capacity to temporarily store up to 8,680 metric tons of used uranium fuel. Future expansion could make room for as many as 10,000 canisters of spent fuel over six decades.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission may announce a decision soon on whether to grant a license for the project spearheaded by Holtec International, which has spent an estimated $80 million over the past eight years on the approval process.
Lujan Grisham and members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have voiced strong opposition to building the facility along the state’s border with Texas. Both states sued the federal government over the issue, and top elected officials in Texas were unsuccessful in their efforts to stop a similar facility in neighboring Andrews County from being licensed.
If a license is granted for the complex in New Mexico, it would still need permits from the state Environment Department. That’s where critics say the state could lean on the legislation and halt the project.
Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat, argued that there has been no incentive for states with nuclear power plants to find permanent solutions for dealing with spent fuel. As long as New Mexico is seen as an option, those states won’t be concerned with the long-term effects, she said.
“The trouble is this is a forever decision. We don’t get to decide, oh, let’s not do this anymore and take it away,” Chasey said. “So think about the fact that if it were such a profitable and good thing, then the states that produced it would have it near their facilities.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nuclear reactors across the country produce more than 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste a year, with most of it remaining…
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