By John Heaton
Vice Chairman of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance
Even though I was very disappointed with the outcome of the Las Cruces Council meeting, I want to thank the Las Cruces City Council for allowing me to make a brief presentation on the Consolidated Interim Storage Facility between Carlsbad and Hobbs and respond to their questions.
I know the mayor’s job is a very busy one, and he can’t be an expert on everything, but it was shocking when he said this project provides nothing for Las Cruces and he is opposing it. He probably doesn’t know that Eddy and Lea counties provide one-third of the state’s general fund, and any additional business in those counties accrue directly to the general fund as well. What this means is that one-third of the Las Cruces public schools budget, one-third of the state’s support for the NMSU budget, one-third of the state match for Medicaid, one-third of the state match for welfare, any general funds going to highways and on and on and on comes from Eddy and Lea counties.
It was also shocking to hear Councilor Flores say this project just didn’t “feel” right to her. I understand Flores is a lawyer, and other than being steeped in the law, has been trained to seek and act on factual, defensible information, not how something “feels.”
Councilor Smith made a very cogent argument about the fact that Las Cruces receives approximately 25 percent of its electricity from Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona, and it is hypocritical for Las Cruces to be using nuclear power and totally ignore the problem of storing used fuel. If Las Cruces is going to use nuclear power, then it should be supporting any project that helps to manage the used fuel.
Councilor Eakman, who said he is involved with the health care system, quite eloquently explained the fact that thousands of diagnostic and treatment procedures are done with isotopes as well as many X-rays, CT-scans, Thallium stress tests and others. For the council to ignore the fact that all of these isotopes produce waste that must be disposed is a failure to face reality. In fact, there are more than 50 million isotopic diagnostic procedures done in the U.S. annually.
Both councilors, Smith and Eakman, suggested a workshop for the council to become more educated before voting against a project about which they only had sketchy information. NMSU has a premier engineering and physics department, UNM has a nuclear engineering program, Sandia National Lab does most of the transportation testing and modeling, all readily available for the council to call upon for information.
Taking a stance against a project promoted by an anti-nuclear activist based on non-factual information, transference and hyperbole is one of the reasons New Mexico is the only state that has still not recovered the jobs lost from the 2008 depression, and we are the only state losing population – no jobs.
This proposed Holtec interim storage facility is the safest, most secure and robust storage facility in the world. The transportation cask has four layers of confinement with more than a 15-inch wall of steel and lead. The testing and modeling of the cask confirms no nuclear material can escape under the most severe accident scenarios. Furthermore, a dedicated 10-car train with guards and guns will be used to transport the spent fuel to the site. It will travel at greatly reduced speeds to reduce impacts and is given rail right-of way preference as it travels. Safety and security are the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s total focus, goal and responsibility that they take very seriously.
It is clearly time the state and just as importantly cities, quit picking winners and losers in the economic development arena. This idea of Las Cruces opposing efforts by other cities who are attempting to help themselves and their community with projects that bring 215 jobs paying $70,000 a year with benefits and a $2.4 billion capital investment through their own economic development efforts is a very dangerous precedence for our state, and, if it continues, will have far-reaching negative impacts.