Plan to Store Spent Nuclear Fuel in New Mexico Takes Major Step

With plans for a “permanent” solution for storing waste from nuclear power generating plants permanently stalled, some are hoping that an “interim” site can be developed that would enable the removal of spent nuclear fuel from plant sites. Today, Holtec International and two New Mexico counties announced a memorandum of agreement to build such a facility in the southeast corner of the state.

POWER reported on the groundwork plans for the project yesterday. They included the involvement of New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R).

The agreement between Holtec and the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance has Holtec responsible for the design, licensing, construction, and operation of an interim used fuel storage facility modeled on Holtec’s HI-STORM UMAX storage system, according to a press release by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). That storage system stores high-level radioactive waste in steel and concrete containers below ground. The agreement would develop an interim site “to store all of the used nuclear fuel produced in the United States and all canisters currently licensed in dry storage in the country.”

NEI Senior Vice President for Governmental Affairs Alex Flint told those present at the Albuquerque announcement: “The nuclear industry has tremendous respect for the political leaders in New Mexico, who for years have been at the forefront of understanding nuclear issues. Where others see challenges, they see opportunities. That has been New Mexico’s history since the beginning of the nuclear era. This is one more example of New Mexicans who see an opportunity to lead by creating a valuable business.

The Albuquerque Journal quoted Holtec President and CEO Kris Singh as saying the site is an ideal location for the project: “New Mexico has excellent terrain, a dry climate, and a very deep water table,” Singh said. “There’s not a blade of grass growing in that area. It’s a great place for a safe and secure storage facility.”

New Mexico is home to two national laboratories with long histories of nuclear technology work, Los Alamos and Sandia, as well as the currently closed Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which stores waste from the nation’s military nuclear sector.

—Gail Reitenbach, PhD, is POWER’s editor (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine)