New Mexico’s elected leaders and many citizens often claim to be interested in “diversifying the economy” and attracting good-paying new jobs to our state. When push comes to shove, however, schizophrenia reigns.
Policymakers often outdo themselves throwing subsidies and tax exemptions at businesses while they enact policies or restrictions that make doing business in New Mexico unattractive.
As has been reported in the media, Holtec International has proposed the construction of an “intermediate” storage facility for spent nuclear fuel to be located between Carlsbad and Hobbs. The facility would create as many as 135 jobs, including the construction and operating workforce. Operating jobs would pay between $60,000 and $80,000 annually. The state would experience a total increase in income from direct jobs of about $7.9 million and approximately $820,000 in personal income tax and New Mexico Gross Receipts Tax. This facility represents a major investment in New Mexico’s economy.
This facility received overwhelming bipartisan support from both houses of the Legislature during the 2016 session when both houses passed memorials supporting the proposed Holtec facility.
Economically speaking, Holtec’s plan resembles the Facebook facility in Valencia County that has generated so many positive news stories and resulted in tens of millions of dollars in subsidies from state and local governments.
The biggest difference – aside from Holtec not having asked for subsidies – is the public’s sympathy toward Facebook and its antipathy toward nuclear storage. Holtec’s proposed facility is extremely safe. Safeguard upon safeguard will be implemented to ensure against accidents both in transit and at its final destination.
The issue of nuclear storage transcends New Mexico’s economy, but if it is approved and becomes operational, Holtec’s facility could go a long way toward resolving America’s near-term nuclear storage challenges.
Currently, spent nuclear fuel is stored on-site at nuclear power facilities across the nation. This situation is viewed as sub-optimal by supporters and detractors of nuclear power alike. One or more secure central storage facilities are needed to ensure the spent nuclear fuel is stored safely.
The long-term solution proposed by the federal government is the politically-challenged Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada, which has cost taxpayers billions of dollars and may never be used for its intended purpose. Holtec’s proposed facility provides at least a starting point for a solution that will save federal taxpayers a great deal of money due to fact that federal taxpayers have been paying tens of billions of dollars in fines to utilities in recent decades due to the federal government’s failure to come up with a nuclear storage solution.
And, while nuclear energy is unlikely to grow dramatically in the near-term due to the rise of inexpensive natural gas and increased energy efficiency of the U.S. economy, solving the nuclear storage problem would remove a major obstacle to the industry’s resurgence. As concerns about CO2 emissions and man-made climate change intensify, an increasing number of pro-nuclear environmentalists including, but not limited to, NASA scientist James Hansen and Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore may cause nuclear to gain market share once again.
All of this means that by resolving a certain important aspect of the nuclear storage problem, this Holtec facility could:
• Directly generate new, high-paying jobs and tax dollars for New Mexico;
• Help solve the United States’ nuclear storage woes, thus improving the odds for a zero-carbon energy source which in turn;
• Spurs future demand for uranium production, an industry which at one time served as the backbone of economically-depressed areas of west-central New Mexico.
On that last point, it is true that many communities have been negatively impacted by uranium mining in the past. Modern safety advancements and stricter regulations would mean that a nuclear resurgence could be an economic engine for multiple areas of the Land of Enchantment.
As the only state with two national laboratories specializing in nuclear research, New Mexico has always been on the cutting edge of nuclear technology. The proposed Holtec International storage facility is yet another opportunity for the state to lead the way with tremendous immediate economic benefits as well as longer-term potential for a return to growth of a clean and reliable form of zero-carbon emissions energy.
The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.