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Watchdogs Sound the Alarm on the "Nuclear Stimulus"

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 By Eric MackContact
February 5, 2009

Santa Fe, NM - Side effects of lawmakers' efforts to stimulate the economy could be hazardous to the health of New Mexicans, according to nuclear industry watchdogs keeping an eye on pending legislation both in Washington, D.C. and Santa Fe.

Eric Jantz, staff attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, says a provision that could guarantee up to $50 billion in loans for construction of new nuclear power plants has worked its way into the Senate version of the federal economic recovery package. He worries that could lead to a resurgence of the uranium mining and milling industry that has had such a checkered history in New Mexico.

"We have perhaps over 200 abandoned uranium mines, a number of superfund sites, untold millions of acre feet of contaminated ground water, surface water, and then all the public health problems."

Meanwhile, a bill currently in the state legislature - House Bill 84, sponsored by Rep. Patricia A. Lundstrom - would tie funding for cleanup of old mines to fees levied on new mining operations.

Lundstrom's bill is problematical, Jantz says, because it would only provide funds to clean up old uranium mines if their communities are willing to host new mines, since the clean-up funding is linked to them.

"It puts community decision-makers and average folks in a position of having to make this really untenable choice."

He says there are other, better bills in the Roundhouse that would help clean up old uranium mines without tying the funding to new mines.

Supporters of both the federal and state measures say they would be good for the economy and the environment. They contend that the problems with cleanup in New Mexico are a thing of the past, due to technological improvements in the industry. However, Jantz says spills and other problems at recent uranium mining operations in states like Texas paint a very different picture.

The bill passed both houses last year, but was vetoed by Governor Richardson.

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