US Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) recently and announced future recovery plans for WIPP and they include a target date to start some operations 18 months from now reported KRQE.
That date is extremely optimistic. Here’s a few reasons why –
- The exact cause of the February 14 release that shut WIPP down is still unknown. The cause must be determined before much else can happen.
- There are 360+ drums in Panel 6 that are suspected to have similar waste characteristics to the drum that leaked radiation. These have also now been re-characterized as “ignitable” by Los Alamos officials. Do these need to be removed and retreated? A decision is needed.
- Panel 6 must be sealed off to protect mine workers from releases.
- There are 50+ suspect drums in Panel 7 where the original release happen.
- Parts of Panel 7 must be sealed off to protect workers.
- A new exhaust shaft is in the planning stages.
- The mine should be decontaminated.
- Funding for the recovery work will be needed.
- Fines will probably have to be paid.
- If the WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit with the State is changed substantially, public comments and possible hearings will be required.
- Hopefully, a truly independent review will be approved.
In addition to these, Los Alamos officials have retroactively re-characterized many waste drums as “ignitable”. See previous post. Today it was revealed that Los Alamos has re-characterized some waste drums as “corrosive”. Ignitable (EPA waste code D001) and corrosive (EPA waste code D002) wastes are prohibited from WIPP.
The NM Environment Department, and its Secretary Ryan Flynn, has the final say about the final disposition of the now illegal waste drums and many of the other issues. We trust he will take the health of present workers and future generations into account in his decision-making. DOE’s imagined schedule should not be a consideration.
We appreciate that Los Alamos Laboratory officials have stepped up and re-characterized the drums. But we don’t think DOE officials should be making statements about the timing of WIPP’s reopening (or even that WIPP will reopen at all) until all the facts are in.
To make matters even worse, the Current Argus reported that “Moniz told the town hall meeting [that the Department of] Energy is considering the facility [WIPP] to store spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants, but provided no time line.”
To even consider expanding WIPP when it is not even open shows the lack of focus on the current problems and shows the lessons have not been learned.