New Mexico’s congresspeople called on the federal government to extend a public comment period for an environmental impact statement (EIS) on a proposal by Holtec International to build a nuclear waste repository in southeast New Mexico.
The letter signed by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and U.S. Reps. Xochitl Torres Small, Ben Ray Lujan Deb Haaland (D-NM), urged the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to extend the 60-day public comment period until public hearings could be held in New Mexico.
The request followed a State ban on gatherings of more than 10 people amid a global outbreak of coronavirus that left thousands dead across the world.
The comment period began Friday as the draft environmental impact statement was published in the Federal Register.
“It is shocking that DOE would propose to delay projects like the cesium-strontium capsules and the 324 Building contamination, which pose such great risks to the workers and public,” said Tom Carpenter, executive director for Hanford Challenge, a watchdog and worker advocacy group.
The Department of Energy has announced priority plans for environmental cleanup nationwide and indicates a slower process for the decommissioned nuclear site in Washington state, a report said.
The focus at the Hanford Site will be to start treating waste at the $17 billion vitrification plant, but the report does not detail other work at the 580-square-mile (1,500-square-kilometer) site, the Tri-City Herald reported Tuesday.
The report does not mention moving radioactive capsules to safer storage and cleaning up a radioactive spill under one of the buildings a mile north of Richland.
The Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus have renewed their relationship and commitment of unity by smoking the sacred pipe. The two nations have met to discuss radioactive waste matters that are within their traditional and treaty territories
Central to the discussions were ceremony, and spirituality, as reflected in our inherent responsibilities and intimate relationship to the land, waters, and all our relations.
We the Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus have jurisdiction over the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basins as a result of Aboriginal titles, and the treaties that have been entered into by First Nations and the Crown. We have our own territories and exercise our jurisdiction on a Nation-to-Nation basis.
“I can’t understand why this administration does not value cleanup and would risk breaking the legal commitments [the Department of Energy] has made to the state of New Mexico with budget numbers like that,” Heinrich said. “Why is the cleanup number so abysmal in this budget?”
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich fired tough questions and caustic comments at Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on Tuesday over the proposed $100 million cut in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s cleanup program for radioactive waste it produced during the Manhattan Project and Cold War.
“The Trump Administration again proposes to cut DOE’s budget — by 8 percent overall, and by an astounding 35 percent in non-defense programs. This will limit America’s future by drastically reducing or eliminating programs critical for meeting our future energy needs and assuring our security,” – Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse (Wash.) accused the Trump administration of “playing politics” on Thursday with its reversal on funding for a nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
“I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to see this administration playing politics with something as important as completing the permanent solution to our nation’s high-level nuclear waste,” Newhouse said during a hearing on the administration’s proposed Department of Energy (DOE) budget.
“This budget is … a total waste of resources and a distraction from solving this very important issue,” he added.
President Trump announced this month that he no longer supports funding the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, reversing his position on a controversial matter in a key state in November’s elections. The change was reflected in his budget proposal for fiscal year 2021.
Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said during the hearing that the administration would not proceed with either licensing for Yucca Mountain or an interim storage facility.
“My understanding [is] under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act we are prohibited from starting construction on an interim facility, a federal facility,” Brouillette said.
Democrats also criticized the administration over cuts included in the budget proposal.
“The Trump Administration again proposes to cut DOE’s budget — by 8 percent overall, and by an astounding 35 percent in non-defense programs. This will limit America’s future by drastically reducing or eliminating programs critical for meeting our future energy needs and assuring our security,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, in her opening statement.
“Your budget proposes deep and arbitrary cuts that threaten progress one one of our most pressing challenges and that is climate change. We can be a leader in exporting clean energy technologies, but not under your budget request,” Kaptur added later in the hearing.
In response, Brouillette said, “Renewable technologies are becoming somewhat mature in the marketplace, so for us to focus again on these technologies that are now commercially widely available seems to us to be inappropriate.”
Trump’s budget request would reduce spending significantly at several energy and environment-related agencies, including the energy department. Trump has consistently proposed cutting funding such agencies, and Congress has routinely ignored those proposals and instead increased funding.
Inspectors at the Westinghouse nuclear fuel factory near Columbia recently found 13 small leaks in a protective liner that is supposed to keep pollution from dripping into soil and groundwater below the plant.
Now, the company plans to check a concrete floor beneath the liner, as well as soil below the plant, for signs of contamination that could have resulted from the tears, which were characterized in a federal inspection report as ‘’pinhole leaks.’’ The pinhole leaks, discovered by Westinghouse late in 2019, may have formed after company employees walked across the liner and weakened it, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
According to media reports, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semiautonomous nuclear weapons agency within the Department of Energy (DOE), has persuaded President Trump to increase its weapons budget by more than 20% in one year. NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty has claimed that a failure to give her agency that huge increase would amount to “unilateral disarmament” despite the U.S. having thousands of nuclear warheads ready to launch on a moment’s notice.
The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a 33-year-old network of groups from communities downwind and downstream of U.S. nuclear weapons sites, strongly opposes this unnecessary and dangerous spending that promotes a new global nuclear arms race. In addition, Trump’s FY 2021 budget request is expected to cut or hold flat cleanup, nonproliferation, dismantlement and renewable energy programs that meet real national needs to pay for more unneeded nuclear weapons. To compound all this, DOE’s nuclear weapons and environmental management programs have been on the Government Accountability Office’s “High Risk List” for project mismanagement and waste of taxpayers’ dollars for 27 consecutive years.
“There’s enough high-level nuclear waste awaiting disposal in the U.S. to fill a football field 65 feet (20 meters) deep. Few states want to house it within their borders.”
“The public defines ‘safe’ as zero risk…the technical community defines ‘safe’ as complying with regulatory standards.” – Robert Halstead, head of the Agency for Nuclear Projects, is currently fighting plutonium shipments to Nevada and spent nuclear fuel transfers to the proposed Yucca Mountain dump.
The plutonium core for the first atomic weapon detonated in 1945 was taken from Los Alamos National Laboratory to a test site in the New Mexico desert in the backseat of a U.S. Army sedan.
Officials put other bomb parts inside a metal container, packed it into a wooden crate and secured it in the steel bed of a truck under a tarp, the U.S. Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration says in a historical account.
Grainy black-and-white photos show special agents and armed military police accompanying the shipment nearly 75 years ago.
“Nuclear materials transportation has evolved since then,” the department posted online last year.
Today, radioactive shipments are hauled in double-walled steel containers inside specialized trailers that undergo extensive testing and are tracked by GPS and real-time apps.
But whether shipping technology has evolved enough to be deemed safe depends on whom you ask.
At some point, DOE will have to admit that it has no idea what it will cost to cleanup the Cold War nuclear weapons complex sites. DOE should stop making more wastes until the existing wastes are remediated. The new estimate is more that twice the amount that has been spent in total since cleanup began in 1989, with the most difficult sites still to come.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Clean Up, Don’t Build Up!
The thing is that the new $377 billion estimate includes leaving much of the waste behind.
Program-Wide Strategy and Better Reporting Needed to Address Growing Environmental Cleanup Liability GAO-19-28: Published: Jan 29, 2019. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 2019.
The Department of Energy is tasked with cleaning up waste from Cold War nuclear weapons production, much of which is hazardous or radioactive. The department’s Office of Environmental Management estimates that future work could cost at least $377 billion—$109 billion more than last year’s estimate.
The public can comment on the U.S. Department of Energy’s proposed changes to Hanford nuclear waste cleanup rules until Jan. 9.
By Tom Carpenter
NukeWatch NM and Hanford Challenge are both members of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.
seattletimes.com | Originally published January 2, 2019 at 3:11 pm
After almost 30 years of a program to clean up dangerous defense waste at the Hanford nuclear site in southeastern Washington, the Department of Energy now wants to change the rules to make the job easier and save money. If approved, the proposal poses new dangers to the health and safety of people and the environment — not just in southeastern Washington, but at nuclear sites around the country.
In 1943, the U.S. government built the massive complex at Hanford to manufacture plutonium for nuclear weapons. When defense production ceased in 1986, its nine reactors had produced enough material for 60,000 atomic bombs. What remains is North America’s most contaminated site — more than half a billion gallons of nuclear waste and toxic chemicals stored in leaking tanks and dumped into the ground.
This revised Consent Order will create serious barriers to achieving cleanup, limits public participation opportunities, undermines enforceability by the Environment Department, puts the Department of Energy (DOE) in the driver’s seat, and lacks a final milestone compliance date. The 2016 Consent Order is potentially a giant step backward in achieving genuine, comprehensive cleanup at LANL.
The 2005 consent order was LANL’s agreement for “fence-to-fence” cleanup of Cold War-era legacy waste by December 2015. Issued pursuant to the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act, the Consent Order set the requirements for a comprehensive investigation of environmental contamination and provides for the identification of cleanup alternatives and the implementation of cleanup measures. (NMED, DOE, UC Regents)