During the 2023 Legislative Session, Democrats rammed through the extreme S.B. 53 despite bipartisan opposition.
Sens. Moe Maestas (D-Bernalillo) and Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernalillo), as well as Reps. Ambrose Castellano (D-Ribera), Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos), Meredith Dixon (D-Bernalillo), Patricia Lundstrom (D-Gallup), and Joseph Sanchez (D-Alcalde), joined all Republicans in opposition to the unconstitutional bill.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Doña Ana) and Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-Santa Fe), aims to preempt the company Holtec International from being able to safely store used nuclear fuel rods in a temporary facility in Eddy and Lea Counties. Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham quickly signed it.
These safe fuel rods, housed in secure casks, would be transported by rail to the facility on train shipments specifically for storage. The project would account for over 350 new jobs.
The casks are immune to hurricanes, floods, tornados, earthquakes, and even the impact of a plane crash. There would be no adverse effect on wildlife nor on groundwater, no radiological consequences in the event of a fire, and an inconspicuous design.
The project, which already has gotten a positive environmental impact statement from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), is set to be approved within the next few weeks following the statement’s positive recommendation.
Despite the safe and secure record of nuclear production and storage from Holtec International, Democrats weaponized anti-nuclear propaganda during the committee process and on the House and Senate floors to claim the safe facility would turn New Mexico into a dumping ground — despite the facility not being permanent. The spent fuel would be stored at the Holtec site “until the Federal Government provides a repository for permanent storage or other permanent disposition as required by law,” according to Holtec.
New Mexico is ideal for such a facility due to its “typography, arid climate, [the] sparse population at the site’s location, and proximity to transportation infrastructure,” Holtec wrote.
Now, Holtec is signaling a legal challenge against the unconstitutional. Holtec spokesman Patrick O’Brien wrote, “Passing a bill that is pre-empted by federal law and will be adjudicated accordingly in the courts is a counterproductive action that inhibits the state’s growth in the area of clean energy,” adding, “The project is safe, secure and does not impact the environment negatively and does not interfere with oil and gas production.”
Even former Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, wrote that the state has no jurisdiction to ban nuclear fuel storage in New Mexico.
He wrote in 2018, referencing case law, “Taken together, both Bullcreek and Nielson clearly establish two principles: first, that the NRC has the statutory authority to license and regulate consolidated interim nuclear waste storage facilities, and secondly, that the comprehensiveness of that federal regulatory scheme preempts virtually any state involvement.”
Balderas further wrote in the opinion, “While there are a large number of factors that are considered by the NRC in evaluating a license application, state approval is not among them.”
Even the Joe Biden administration has recognized the need for nuclear fuel, writing that it “made a commitment to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the energy industry by 2035. Nuclear energy is a part of that solution.”
Despite all sides coming together in support of nuclear energy being a viable solution to our nation’s energy needs, Democrats continue to harp on decades-old fear tactics to keep investment, namely the multi-billion-dollar Holtec project, from investing in New Mexico’s future. However, the court challenge to the unconstitutional law is imminent.
Photo rendering of the proposed Holtec consolidated interim storage facility courtesy of Holtec International.