Upcoming Forum Will Discuss Draft WIPP Permit

* There will be a community-supported forum held in Albuquerque to discuss the proposed changes to the operating permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). The forum will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, February 22 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The Center is located at 1601 Fourth Street Southwest, on the corner of Fourth and Avenida de Cesar Chavez. The Forum is sponsored by Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD), labor unions, the Gray Panthers, the Southwest Research and Information Center and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. For more information, please call CARD at (505) 266 - 2663.

In November 2005, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued a draft permit that allows for the disposal of higher-level waste at WIPP, relaxes the requirements for testing of the waste and expands the above-ground storage space.

WIPP is an underground radioactive waste repository located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, which opened in March 1999. The waste is disposed in a salt formation 2,150 feet underground. Transuranic waste from the research and production of nuclear weapons is disposed of at WIPP. Transuranic waste is radioactive waste contaminated by elements heavier than uranium, such as plutonium, and it is a man made alpha-emitter. The emitted alpha-particles are very harmful when they enter the body through inhalation or ingestion.

Transuranic waste is classified into two groups, remote-handled and contact-handled. Remote-handled waste is too dangerous for workers to come into direct contact with, so they must use shielding and remote operators to handle the disposal containers. The Department of Energy allows its employees to work directly with contact-handled waste.

Contact-handled transuranic waste is currently disposed of at WIPP. The draft permit will allow for remote-handled waste to be brought to WIPP as well. There are many additional risks associated with this level of waste, including concerns about exposure of the general public when the waste is transported on public roads.

The draft permit will also reduce the amount of testing necessary to determine whether the contents of the drums are safe and appropriate for WIPP. The current permit requires that all of the drums be tested to ensure that they do not contain explosives or other flammable or corrosive materials. The draft permit greatly reduces the requirements for oversight and relies upon the records created when the waste was packed. In some cases, these records were made decades ago and are grossly incomplete.

The third major modification included in the draft permit is a vast expansion of the above-ground storage capacity. A quadrupling of the exterior parking area would be allowed and waste not permitted underground could be stored there.

Activists are concerned that the proposed changes in the draft permit will result in additional dangers to workers and the public as well as open the door to more types of waste being disposed of at WIPP. The public comment period for the proposed WIPP permit modification has been extended until February 22, 2006.

For suggestions about writing comments please click here.

For more information about the WIPP Permit Forum on February 22, please call CARD at (505) 266 - 2663.

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