By Mark Waite
Nye County Commissioner Gary Hollis was upset Tuesday that President Barack Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission paid a visit to Carlsbad, N.M., site of a low-level waste repository, but not to Nye County or Yucca Mountain.
Hollis charged Pete Domenici, a former U.S. Senator from New Mexico and a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission, was trying to steer nuclear waste to Carlsbad instead of Yucca Mountain.
The Blue Ribbon Commission advocated a consent-based approach, empowering local communities with generous subsidies and job benefits to overcome stiff resistance to nuclear waste. The State of Nevada has been adamantly opposed the Yucca Mountain project as well as the state’s congressional delegation, but Nye County has had a policy of constructive engagement with the U.S. Department of Energy on the project.
Hollis said the commission referred to the way Sweden and Finland handle nuclear waste. But Hollis said, “Sweden and Finland don’t have states to deal with. I’d like to see the Blue Ribbon Commission try that in the U.S. I don’t think they’re going to get much leeway, except with Nye County, which is a consent-based community.”
Hollis said Carlsbad really wants the nuclear waste. That community already has the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, where the DOE has been shipping transuranic waste. More than 11,000 shipments of transuranic waste have been made to WIPP from around the country, which is stored in salt beds 2,150 feet below the surface.
Carlsbad and Eddy County, N.M., officials believe the Blue Ribbon Commission report lends credence to Southeast New Mexico being the successor to Yucca Mountain, according to published reports.
Darrell Lacy, director of the Nye County Nuclear Waste Project Office, said the State of New Mexico is against accepting nuclear waste as well. He added the Blue Ribbon Commission didn’t address sites for nuclear waste.
The DOE is running out of transuranic waste to ship to Carlsbad, which could mean an end to the shipments by 2015 or 2016 and the resulting 700 jobs, Lacy said, a point of concern to those local officials.
“I asked the question: Why didn’t you bring the Blue Ribbon Commission to Nye County? If you’re going to bring it to Carlsbad, why didn’t you bring the Blue Ribbon Commission to Nye County so we could show you that you do have local support? They didn’t have an answer to that, other than they didn’t want to be political,” Hollis told county commissioners Tuesday.
Nye County Commissioner Joni Eastley was irate at that remark.
“Oh my God! Sorry Gary, they didn’t want to be political? That’s all they are,” Eastley said.
Lacy said afterwards the Blue Ribbon Commission wouldn’t be able to enter Yucca Mountain if they visited Nye County and if they did, the only thing they’d find was a tunnel. Lacy said Carlsbad has the only acting repository of nuclear waste, but the BRC visit gave local officials an opportunity to talk up the benefits of Carlsbad.
Hollis said there’s plenty to go around, if Domenici wants to store greater than Class C nuclear waste at Carlsbad. But he doesn’t think salt caverns are a good place to store the type of high level nuclear waste intended for Yucca Mountain. Even if the state of New Mexico agreed, Hollis said it would take 20 years to characterize a site for nuclear waste at Carlsbad.
While members got a warm reception in the town more famous for its underground caverns, the greeting wasn’t so warm when the Blue Ribbon Commission traveled to Albuquerque in January 2011; the meeting had to be shut down early after a protester was escorted off stage by police. Opponents from Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping complained they didn’t have a chance to get a proper hearing.
“There are other communities out there who are wanting this piece of cake. So we spent $15 billion in 30 years. That mountain is the most studied mountain in the history of rock and we’re still trying to study it,” Hollis said.
Hollis said he wouldn’t have any objections with forming a government-private entity to run a nuclear waste program, a “fed corps” like the successful Tennessee Valley Authority.