Governor, stand your ground on nuke waste demands
Santa Fe New Mexican
December 3, 2004

New Mexicans are being treated to what looks more and more like a nuclear minuet. The dance tune is being played by a European-controlled company already ushered from a couple of other states -- yet given lukewarm attentions from our governor and courted avidly by our senior senator.

It's intermission time.

Louisiana Energy Services wants to open a uranium-enrichment plant out near Hobbs.

Gov. Bill Richardson has supported the idea, on and off. Right now he's put off by Sen. Pete Domenici. Without so much as a public hearing, the senator has invited the company in -- despite the lack of a clear guarantee that its nuclear waste will be promptly removed from our state.

As part of the convoluted appropriations act Congress approved late last month, the federal Department of Energy would become steward of the plant's waste -- if, by the time the stuff is being generated, private enterprise hasn't built its own waste-treatment facility somewhere. No state we can think of is dying to be that "somewhere" -- so forgive us for figuring that the feds will wind up with it, then find some reason to just leave it here.

The appropriations bill, certain to be signed by the president, carries weasel-words that could be construed to call the Hobbs-area plant an "existing" waste-storage facility if radioactive waste happens to be sitting around. And as long as it's an "existing" storage-ground, why not keep it in existence?

Gov. Richardson calls the language inadequate. That's putting it mildly.

Until there's an express guarantee that the waste won't stay here, the governor has put his support for the project on a back burner.

LES needs a groundwater-discharge permit from the state Environment Department to build the plant. Environment Secretary Ron Curry says he needs to know how long nuclear waste will remain on-site before New Mexico even considers the company's application for such a permit.

Don't worry about it, says LES; you have our promise to remove the waste. Domenici also says no se preocupe; we're working on language we'll put in the plant's federal license, making the waste-removal guarantee legally binding.

That's all fine and good -- but the governor and his environment secretary must say wait until those promises are carved in statutory or regulatory granite -- then we'll consider your groundwater-discharge permit.

After all, Curry's concerns got short shrift from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier in the application process -- and Domenici has long been aware of state leaders' misgivings about the downside of creating a nuclear corridor in southeastern New Mexico. He should have written stronger waste-disposal agreements into the appropriations bill.

The governor can expect plenty of pressure from Domenici and the rest of the feds: Give us your approval now; we'll make sure everything's jake by the time the plant is built. Think of all the jobs and other economic goodies that go with this plant. Here, y'need a pen? Borrow ours ...

Resist the blandishments, Bill; your instincts are right. This project doesn't have a lot of suitors -- so keep playing hard to get.    

Copyright 2004 Santa Fe New Mexican  

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