Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

WIPP Updates

US, critics split on whether tech made nuke shipments safer

“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.

BY: SCOTT SONNER | phys.org

The era of significant rail transport of weapons, which occurred from roughly 1975 to 1992, was perhaps the most publicly visible period for OST. There were numerous anti-nuclear protests associated with rail transportation during that time. Credit: DOE

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.

An Atomic Energy Commission courier in the late 1950s armed with an M3 submachine gun at the cab of a bobtail truck that carried high explosives. Behind the truck is a Ford ranch wagon used as an escort vehicle. Credit: DOE

“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.

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Help Stop Plans to “Modernize” WIPP

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located outside Carlsbad, NM. is the nation’s only geologic repository for defense-generated transuranic waste. The Department of Energy (DOE) is accepting comments on its 2019-2024 “Strategic Plan”, which should be focused on closing WIPP. But the Plan focuses on extending WIPP’s lifetime to 2050 and beyond. WIPP’s disposal phase was extended until 2024 (in 2010), and the last expected year of final closure of the WIPP facility (i.e., date of final closure certification) was to be 2034. There was always a 10-year period for final closure after the disposal operations ceased.

But, instead, the WIPP Strategic Plan is stocked full of new projects that will extend WIPP’s life another 25 years at least. Yet, WIPP officials don’t mention how or when they plan to modify the State Permit with the new proposed date. DOE’s own waste-handling inefficiencies and mistakes have caused this delay that the people of New Mexico are now paying for by having WIPP open longer than planned. We are asking everyone to oppose DOE’s “WIPP Forever” plans by sending in comments. See below.

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Help Stop The New Strategic Plan That Would Double WIPP’s Lifespan

Proposed Shaft #5 at WIPP
Proposed Shaft #5 at WIPP

DOE Moves Forward With Unneeded New Shaft at WIPP

Originally billed as a replacement exhaust shaft to help WIPP recover from the 2014 exploding drum event that shut down WIPP for three years, a proposed new shaft is now designed to increase WIPP’s capacity. WIPP officials have repeatedly stated that after a new filter building is complete, WIPP will have returned to its pre-2014 capacity without the new shaft. The $75 million new fifth shaft would increase the mining and waste handling capacity by 25% at any given time.

One would think that increasing the annual ability to emplace waste at WIPP would help keep the repository  on track to stop receiving waste by its original date of 2024. But along with the annual increased mining and disposal capacity, DOE has also released a Strategic Plan to extend WIPP’s waste disposal deadline to 2052.

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Proposed New Exhaust at WIPP Designed to Release Radiation

19 seconds – the amount of time airborne radiological contamination could be released before the safety dampers close. This assumes that all other components work perfectly.

A recent report from the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) explains the DNFSB’s calculations on the proposed new (estimated at nearly $300 million) safety significant confinement ventilation system (SSCVS).

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Public Hearing on Safety Management of Waste Storage and Processing in the Defense Nuclear Facilities Complex

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) held a public hearing on June 20th at its Washington, DC Headquarters. The DNFSB’s goals for the hearing were (1) to discuss Department of Energy (DOE) actions to strengthen the safety posture of solid waste operations and (2) gather information on safety controls to address the vulnerabilities associated with handling and processing solid nuclear wastes.

The Live Stream of the Hearing can be seen here: http://stream.sparkstreetdigital.com/20190620-dnfsb.html?id=20190620-dnfsb

The Board will hold the hearing record open until the close of business on July 20, 2019.

Members of the public can submit written comments to hearing@dnfsb.gov until July 20.

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Nuclear Waste Storage Concerns Raised By Panel Members During Santa Fe Forum

Participating in a panel on nucelar waste in New Mexico Wednesday in Santa Fe
Participating in a panel on nucelar waste in New Mexico Wednesday June 19, 2019 in Santa Fe were, from left, Don Hancock, Sally Rodgers, Rep. Christine Chandler and State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com

BY MAIRE O’NEILL
maire@losalamosreporter.com

Multiple concerns were raised by panel members Wednesday June 21, 2019 during a forum on nuclear waste in the state of New Mexico hosted by the Santa Fe Democratic Party Platform and Resolutions Committee at the Center for Progress and Justice in Santa Fe.

Land Commissioner Garcia Richard said her office has direct oversight of mineral leasing at the proposed Holtec site. She made public a letter she sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expressing her concerns about representations made by Holtec to the NRC and New Mexicans about its control of the proposed site as well as agreements it claims to have secured from the state Land Office. She said while the Eddy-Leah County Energy Alliance LLC privately owns the surface of the proposed site, the State Land Office owns the mineral estate and that has not been disclosed by Holtec.

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Trump Budget Would Continue Nuclear Weapons Buildup and Bring More Nuclear Waste to NM

Otherwords national-security-cartoon1
Otherwords – A missile in every pot

By Scott Kovac, Operations and Research Director

The White House released the top line numbers of its fiscal year 2020 Congressional budget request and, although there are some increases heading to New Mexico, they are not the increases that we’d like to see. It’s called – A Budget For a Better America,  Promises Kept. Taxpayers First. but only Defense and Department of Energy (DOE) weapons contractors are going to think that anything is better. Meanwhile the rest of us taxpayers will, first and foremost, be looking at cuts to programs that affect us daily.

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WIPP Receives Notice of Upcoming Investigation for Chemical Overexposures to Workers

On January 29, 2019, DOE’s Office of Enterprise Assessments notified Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC (NWP), the managing and operating contractor for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan (WIPP), of its intent to investigate heat stress-related events and chemical exposures at WIPP. The events, occurring from July through October 2018, include multiple overexposures to hazardous chemicals, including carbon tetrachloride, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, as well as a series of heat-stress incidents.

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NukeWatch Joins Suit To Stop WIPP Expansion

WIPP standard waste box
The SWB was qualified by the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) in 1988.

NukeWatch Joins Suit To Stop WIPP Expansion

On January 17, 2019, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) and Nuclear Watch New Mexico (NWNM) filed an appeal in the New Mexico Court of Appeals to overturn the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) approval of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Disposal Volume permit modification, which was issued on December 21, 2018.

The modification would allow expansion of WIPP’s capacity by approximately 30 percent and was issued over the repeated opposition of many New Mexico organizations.

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Permit Changes at WIPP Face Challenges

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico wants Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new administration to take a fresh look at a state decision to change how the volume of radioactive waste stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is measured. (Courtesy of Judiciary.Senate.Gov)

By Mark Oswald | Journal Staff Writer

abqjournal.com | Sunday, January 13th, 2019 at 12:01am

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is encouraging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new administration to reconsider a state government decision made just before she took office Jan. 1 that changes how radioactive waste volume is measured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in effect allowing more waste to placed in the underground repository near Carlsbad.

Udall said last week that limits on how much waste WIPP can hold were critical to federal-state negotiations that led to WIPP’s creation “and were a major reason New Mexico agreed to this mission in the first place.”

“I am encouraging the new administration to take a hard look at this action, and hopeful that it will pause and reconsider this last-minute change that has major ramifications for our state,” the senator said in an email statement.

The controversial state permit modification for WIPP, approved by then-New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate on Dec. 21, changes the way waste volume is calculated to exclude empty space inside waste packaging. With the alteration, WIPP becomes only about a third full instead of 50 percent full.
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Quotes

There are two problems for our species’ survival – nuclear war and environmental catastrophe – and we’re hurtling towards them. Knowingly.
– Noam Chomsky