Critics: WIPP proposal would allow more nuclear waste storage
By Rebecca Moss | sfnewmexican.com
Sep 19, 2018 Updated Sep 19, 2018
As the public comment period closes Thursday on modifications to a state permit allowing the federal government to store nuclear waste at a southeastern New Mexico repository, critics are decrying the changes as an effort to increase storage capacity at the site and are accusing the state Environment Department of rushing the approval process.
The U.S. Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC, a private contractor that manages the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, submitted a request early this year to change the way radioactive waste at the site is measured.
They want to measure the waste by the volume inside each waste drum rather than by the total number of containers at the site. WIPP can store a maximum of 6.2 million cubic feet of transuranic waste — discarded tools, soil and equipment contaminated by plutonium and other radioactive materials — in its underground salt-bed caverns. But its capacity has been measured so far by the total volume of the waste drums, not the materials held inside them.
In an example of Now-You-See-It-Now-You-Don’t, the NM Environment Department (NMED) is proposing to change their method of measuring waste emplaced into the underground at WIPP. This would would allow 30% more waste into WIPP than is currently allowed. This sleight of hand would be accomplished by not counting the outer-most container of waste packages in the future. This proposal is one piece of a larger plan to bring more waste to WIPP. New Mexicans have already taken enough of the nation”s radioactive waste. More waste increases the the chance of serious accidents leading to dangerous contamination.
Comments are currently due September 20, 2018 at 5pm, but this deadline ridiculously short. Please join us when we ask for an extension.
We will soon post some sample comments and will give updates as soon as NMED posts the Permit Modification online.
See the Notice here – WIPP Class 3 VOR Notice
“The potential increase would mark a $79 million boost in WIPP’s funding compared with enacted spending in FY 2017, while several infrastructure projects are ongoing at the site to increase airflow and continue to expand the facility’s underground nuclear waste repository.”
Santa Fe, NM
In keeping with the Trump Administration’s recent controversial Nuclear Posture Review, today’s just released FY 2019 federal budget dramatically ramps up nuclear weapons research and production.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the Department of Energy’s semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, is receiving a $2.2 billion overall boost to $15.1 billion, a 17% increase above the FY 2018 enacted level. Of that, a full $11 billion is for the budget category (Nuclear) “Weapons Activities”, 18% above the FY 2018 level.
Digging deeper under Weapons Activities, “Directed Stockpile Work” is increased from $3.3 billion to $4.7 billion, or 41%. Directed Stockpile Work is the hands on, nut and bolts operations that include extending the service lives of existing nuclear weapons for up to 60 years, while also endowing them with new military capabilities.
Santa Fe, NM.
The New Mexico State Auditor Office recently questioned whether two settlements between the New Mexico Environment Department and the Department of Energy were in the best interests of New Mexico. That Office noted:
“The New Mexico Environment Department unnecessarily forgave tens of millions of dollars in civil penalties related to various waste management issues and missed cleanup deadlines by the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractors. Considering the seriousness of the violations, and the clarity regarding responsibility for the violations, it appears highly unusual that the Department would not collect any civil penalties under these circumstances.”
NMED completed an assessment of $54 million in penalties that would have gone to New Mexico, but did not enforce them before making the settlements with DOE. This was at a time when the state was beginning to face a serious budget crisis. As State Senator John Arthur Smith (Chair of the Senate Finance Committee) put it, NMED’s failure to levy penalties when New Mexico was facing a budget crisis is “taking it out of the pockets of our kids and young people when they do something like that.”
Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, commented, “This is inexcusable that NMED preemptively surrendered to Department of Energy extortion. In effect DOE is saying if you, the regulator, fine us, we will cut the money the taxpayer has paid to clean up our mess that threatens the citizens you are suppose to protect.”
The “dilute and dispose” process would package and dispose of the plutonium as waste rather than processing it for use as nuclear reactor fuel. The disposal processes consists of mixing plutonium oxide with “stardust,” a secret inert material, into small containers that are then placed in drums for geologic disposal.
“Perry said he is convinced WIPP is a safe solution for the nation’s nuclear waste, suggesting there are no plans to cut funding….” from KRQE.
“With nuclear waste again on the road to Carlsbad’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, work is underway to improve WIPP transportation routes around the state….” From Carlsbad Current Argus.
“Shut down after two 2014 incidents, New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant accepted its first new shipments of nuclear waste last week ….” From The Christian Science Monitor.
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There are two problems for our species’ survival – nuclear war and environmental catastrophe – and we’re hurtling towards them. Knowingly. – Noam Chomsky ...