NEW MEXICO

If an energy company and a Republican senator get their way, southern New Mexico will get even hotter than its habañeros. The European-owned company LES plans to build a facility near Eunice to produce nuclear reactor fuel, but it still doesn’t have anywhere to store the highly toxic, radioactive byproduct (HCN, 10/13/03: New Mexico: A nuclear homeland?).

LES officials and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., have assured Gov. Bill Richardson that the depleted uranium byproduct will not be permanently stored in the state. In its December 2003 application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, LES proposed keeping its waste on site for no more than 25 years, then dumping it in a Colorado mine owned by Cotter Corporation. But the mine’s owners had no knowledge of the plan, and no site in the country can legally accept such material.

Lee Cheney, founder of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center in Hobbs, says local citizens support the project because they "fear repercussions." He adds, "LES did a lot of wining and dining of local leaders and politicians, and it’s hard to find anyone to oppose (the plant)."

Despite the lack of permanent waste storage, Gov. Richardson’s "support of the project has not wavered," says Gilbert Gallegos, the governor’s spokesman. Gallegos also notes that LES will post a bond that could reach $800 million to pay for disposal if the company defaults.