New Mexico lawmakers warned of dangers of nuclear waste facility

A lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office could block a proposed project to build and operate a facility to store high-level radioactive waste near Carlsbad.

During a Wednesday meeting of the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Interim Committee at New Mexico State University Carlsbad, Chief Counsel at the Attorney General’s Office Matt Baca echoed concerns voiced by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state’s Democrat congresspeople.

He said the facility could risk public health and the environment along with other industries like fossil fuel development and agriculture.

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Baca said the lawsuit filed in March in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico against the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the agency tasked with permitting the project, was intended to stop the project from risking New Mexicans’ well being, he said, as it could become a permanent resting place for the waste. 

Matt Baca, general counsel at the New Mexico Attorney General's Office speaks to lawmakers about Holtec International's proposal to build a nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad, July 14, 2021 at New Mexico State University Carlsbad.

The Attorney General’s Office, Baca said, believed that by moving forward with licensing Holtec’s facility, the NRC committed a “federal overreach” and could unduly force New Mexico to accept the risk associated with the project. 

He said the lawsuit would not force Congress to create a permanent plant for the waste, but could push the federal government to develop one.