Dear Holtec and Interim Storage Partners:
Both of you are actively pursuing permission from the US Nuclear Regulatory to build consolidated interim storage facilities in an area of southwest Texas and southeast New Mexico that seemed well suited for the purpose at the time that you began the process.
Times have changed since then. One of the primary changes is that a technological revolution has converted the Permian Basin from a region with steadily depleting oil and gas production into one of the world’s most productive sources of oil and gas.
A hard, questioning look at the current situation would reveal that it is time to abandon the current applications in favor of finding better locations.
Stubbornly continuing your current projects will impose significant damage to the future of nuclear energy in the United States. Since both of you have major business interests in this industry, you will be damaging existing and future profit centers within your enterprises for the sake of individual projects with uncertain profit potential.
Neither proposed poses an actual physical risk, but they are both creating new political and public perception risks for an industry that needs to be repairing its image and building constructive alliances.
The material that some call spent nuclear fuel, some call “nuclear waste” and some prefer to call future nuclear fuel is safely and affordably stored already. Cancellation of your current projects will not impose any significant additional delay in addressing the “nuclear waste problem.”
Sincerely, Rod Adams
Why would I write such a letter?
On November 3, Texas Governor Greg Abbot sent a letter to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that urged the agency to deny a license to Interim Storage Partners for the facility that would be located in his state.
On July 28, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham sent a much shorter letter to President Trump expressing her opposition to the Holtec project that would be sited in her state.
Both letters claim that consolidated interim storage facilities for used nuclear fuel would pose unacceptable risks to the Permian Basin, which has recently become the most productive oil and gas extraction region in the United States. That region is near the top of the worldwide list of oil and gas production.
Both governors (one Republican and one Democrat) raise the specter of terrorist attacks and describe the financial harm that would be imposed if radioactive materials were to be forcefully distributed across areas that annually provide their states with billions of dollars in tax revenues from resource extraction.
In my opinion, it is counterproductive to stubbornly pursue speculative projects in the face of such strong opposition.
Opposition has deep pockets
Protect the Basin isn’t a typical antinuclear organization. It is an initiative of the Permian Basin Coalition of Land & Royalty Owners and Operators. Their financial resources are, for all practical purposes, infinitely large.
They are legitimately worried about becoming the resting spot for material that experts in the field have called “ultra-hazardous” and whose current caretakers believe needs to be moved to allow more productive uses of existing sites.
Because they have legitimate concerns, they have decided to go “all out” in an effort to make sure the facilities never get built. Even if licenses are awarded they will make every effort to ensure that no material is ever moved and placed on the proposed sites.
Their actions include frequent appearances by spokespersons on local radio and television talk shows. But they aren’t limiting their communications efforts to invited appearances or public meetings; they are buying air time and running scary commercials.
Arguments touting the safety of the cask storage systems or the unblemished history of moving nuclear waste are unconvincing because opponents have a extensive bibliography available that documents concerns and scary analysis from experts in government and from within the industry.
Permian Basin residents are justifiably offended by any implication that their area is desolate, needs jobs, or is better suited for storing used nuclear fuel than current sites. They adamantly disagree with any assertions that it would be logical to move fuel from a place like the coast of Maine to west Texas or New Mexico to free up “valuable” land for development.
The campaign to inform the public about their views about risks will continue as long as the controversial projects remain active.
Spokespeople for the opposition have told me personally that they are not opposed to nuclear energy. They assert that it is an important energy source that needs to be maintained, improved and developed further.
Member of Protect the Basin might someday become valued allies that will actively support long term waste disposal or interim storage projects located in better spots. But until the current projects are cancelled and there is no longer a perceived threat to their livelihoods, they will be firm and loud about their opposition to being the site for hosting used nuclear fuel.
Their professionally-designed and well-supported communications efforts will persuade even more people that the nuclear industry has no viable plan for its waste products. More people will be taught to believe that waste is a big enough reason to avoid nuclear energy and forgo its numerous advantages.
There are better locations and better paths to a future that diminishes the false perception that nuclear waste is an unmovable obstacle to further nuclear energy development. We need to abandon our current path and move towards a more productive one.