Despite Uncertainty of When/If WIPP Will Reopen,
DOE Hatches Plan to Send More Waste
In a recent Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board Editorial: Another WIPP delay spells more tax dollars wasted, we are reminded of the delays affecting the reopening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which has not been disposing radioactive waste since February 2014 when an improperly packed drum from Los Alamos exploded.
Almost two years later, the WIPP contractor struggles to figure out how to clean and reopen the underground repository. Serious concerns revolve around the ventilation system, which not cannot supply the required amount of air now because it must be operated in filter mode ever since WIPP was contaminated.
As the Journal editorial explains,
So while the delays pile up, so do cleanup and reopening costs, which may exceed $500 million.
With bumbling progress like this, it remains to be seen if WIPP will ever reopen.
Yet surprisingly, DOE just released a plan to send MORE waste to WIPP.
A Federal Register notice announces the DOE selection of a Preferred Alternative to prepare 6 metric tons (MT) of surplus non-pit plutonium for eventual disposal at WIPP.
In the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), issued to the public in May 2015, DOE describes the potential environmental impact from alternatives for safe and timely disposition of 13.1 metric tons (14.4 tons) of surplus plutonium for which a disposition pathway is not yet assigned. When the Final EIS was issued, DOE had no Preferred Alternative for the disposition of the 6 metric tons (6.6 tons) of surplus non-pit plutonium.
The Federal Register Notice for DOE/NNSA’s Preferred Alternative for Disposition of Surplus Non-pit Plutonium for the Final Surplus Plutonium Supplemental EIS is expected to be published in the Federal Register by Thursday, December 24, 2015. The Final SPD Supplemental EIS and related information, including the Federal Register notice will also be available on the SPD Supplemental EIS website, and the DOE National Environmental Policy Act website.
Since WIPP doesn’t have capacity (even if it re-opens) for this additional waste, putting it into WIPP would, among other things, displace waste from other site(s) – Idaho, Hanford, Los Alamos, or Oak Ridge.
The Record of Decision will not be released for at least 30 days. Comments are not requested, but can be made, regarding the notice.
Our friends at Southwest Research and Information Center will be making additional comments about this proposed expansion of WIPP.
The WIPP contractor has much to do before the repository can safely reopen. The task may be unachievable. But in the meantime, expanding WIPP’s mission can only make reopening WIPP more schedule driven instead of safety driven.
If DOE wants to make useful plans, how about plans for WIPP’s replacement?