SB 53-HB 122 Storage of Certain Radioactive Waste

Summary: SB 53, introduced by Senator Jeff Steinborn, and its companion bill in the House, HB 122, introduced by Rep. Matthew McQueen, would amend our state’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Act, prohibiting state agencies from issuing permits to store high-level radioactive waste.

History: Senator Steinborn and Rep. McQueen introduced SB 54 / HB 127 Storage of Certain Radioactive Waste in the 2022 Session. SB 54 passed Senate Conservation but died in Senate Judiciary. HB 127 passed House Environment and Natural Resources and House Judiciary but it died before going to the House Floor.

More Details: New Mexico has been the nation’s nuclear sacrifice zone for decades. It’s time to say “no” to our beautiful state becoming a dumping ground for high-level waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants. This legislation would specifically block plans by Holtec International to store commercial nuclear waste on more than 1,000 acres of scrubland between Carlsbad and Hobbs in southeast New Mexico. The WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Project) is in the vicinity but stores only “transuranic” waste – like tools and clothing that have been contaminated with radioactive material. The Holtec project proposes to store spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants across the U.S., bringing as much as nearly 175,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste to New Mexico via railways.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to approve Holtec’s project this year, but many New Mexicans are opposed to our state becoming a permanent repository for the nation’s nuclear waste. A recent poll by the Center for Civic Policy and the Center for Civic Action showed that 60% of voters surveyed oppose the project, including those living in southeastern New Mexico.

New Mexico has a long history of its land being used for nuclear development with subsequent health impacts, contamination of the land and water, and displacement of its local economy:

  • Radioactive waste from the 1945 Trinity Atomic Bomb Test was never cleaned up and has resulted in high cancer rates in surrounding communities of the Tularosa Basin.
  • Uranium mining in the 1950s left more than 1,000 abandoned mines and piles of radioactive tailings, mostly on tribal lands, resulting in intergenerational cancers and birth defects.
  • Radioactive waste from the 1979 Church Rock Dam spill contaminated the Puerco River with 94 million gallons of liquid radioactive waste, poisoning soil, water, livestock, and people. Sources of well water were permanently damaged and lost. Cancer rates continue to be high in those areas.

Governor Lujan Grisham has said she supports the legislation and asked legislators to deliver a nuclear waste bill to her this session.