WIPP Shipments from LANL to Resume

* After a nearly two year hiatus, shipments of transuranic waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) are scheduled to resume on April 20. Shipments were halted in October 2003 after it was discovered that LANL had shipped nearly 100 drums of waste to WIPP that were not permitted to be disposed there.

Only 71 shipments of waste have been transported from LANL to WIPP thus far. Given that WIPP opened more than six years ago, this averages to less than one shipment per month. Jack Ellvinger, of LANL, said, "It is going to be good to start shipping again, so we can get rid of this stuff."

WIPP opened on March 26, 1999 after decades of political and community discussion. WIPP is located in salt beds buried 2,150 feet deep near Carlsbad. It is permitted to receive plutonium-contaminated waste produced during nuclear weapons design and production. WIPP has received 3,505 shipments of waste from seven Department of Energy (DOE) sites since its opening.

Shipments from several facilities, including the Idaho National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site, have been stopped through the years due to improper waste characterization and shipment. These facilities have had some of the highest shipping rates to WIPP of any DOE site.

DOE reports that in 2004, WIPP received the highest number of shipments per calendar year thus far. DOE officials also noted that as shipping rates increased, so did the number of mistakes during waste characterization at other sites. Lloyd Piper, of DOE's Carlsbad office, said that DOE's goal is to have no mistakes in shipping to WIPP in 2005.

Piper said shipments from LANL may increase to four per week by this summer. This would require few mistakes in waste characterization at LANL. It will take years to transport the 55,000 drums of transuranic waste at LANL to WIPP. Thousands of these drums sit in fabric tents at Area G, LANL's radioactive waste disposal facility, and LANL continues to produce approximately one barrel of waste per day that are stored there.

Area G, which is located at Technical Area 54, has been criticized by activists in recent years due to its potential impacts on public health and the environment. Much of the waste at Area G is stored in unlined pits and trenches, which may be compromising the groundwater under the Pajarito Plateau. Further, the Cerro Grande fire, which began five years ago on May 4, came within feet of Area G. LANL may soon propose to expand Area G by 30 acres to store additional waste, which may begin in Fall 2005.

As a result, the Northern New Mexico CitizensŐ Advisory Board, which advises DOE on environmental issues at LANL, will be hosting a public forum on Area G on May 3. Lorelei Novak, of the board, said, "There are a lot of questions that surround [Area G] and there are a lot of issues that we would like to get different opinions on."

For more information about the forum, call (505) 986-1973.

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