EPA Holds WIPP Re-certification Public Meeting in Albuquerque on June 30

June 26, 2009

During 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be conducting the second re-certification process for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the nation's first deep repository for plutonium-contaminated waste from the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, located near Carlsbad, New Mexico. EPA will review existing documents to determine whether WIPP might release enough radioactivity to kill 1,000 people in the 10,000 years after it is filled with waste. On Tuesday, June 30, EPA will hold afternoon and evening meetings in Albuquerque to listen to public comment about the re-certification of WIPP. www.epa.gov/radiation/news/wipp-news.html

Activists have three major concerns about the re-certification. They are whether high-level wastes will be shipped to WIPP for disposal; whether disposal of remote-handled waste in shielded containers will be used; and geologic instability of the WIPP site.

High-level wastes, which are wastes generated by nuclear power plants and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, are prohibited by law at WIPP. The Department of Energy (DOE), owner of WIPP, has included high-level waste in its re-certification application. EPA has said it must be removed from the application. Janet Greenwald, of Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping, asked, "Is there an effort by the DOE again to get the camel's nose under the WIPP tent with high level waste?"

DOE has proposed that some of the plutonium-contaminated waste from nuclear weapons manufacturing, called remote-handled waste, be in lead shielded containers that would sit in the underground rooms at WIPP with the contact-handled waste. There is concern about worker exposure and the safety of the containers. Currently, all remote-handled waste is disposed of in the walls of the underground disposal rooms. DOE has never justified why they want to use shielded containers.

There are on-going concerns about the geologic instability at WIPP. Since the early 1980s, DOE employees and consultants, as well as independent scientists, have maintained that WIPP is part of a regional karstland. Karst is a surface land formation created by the dissolution of rock, which creates pathways for water to flow underground through fractures or caverns. Active oil and gas drilling surrounding the WIPP site create possibilities for releases of radioactivity.

Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, said, "Citizens need to continue to tell EPA to protect future generations by preventing high-level waste and use of unsafe containers at WIPP, especially given the risks of radioactive leaks."

The EPA pubic meeting, which WIPP officials will also attend, is scheduled for Tuesday, June 30 at the Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North, 5151 San Francisco Road, NE from 1:30 to 5 and from 6:30 to 9. Carpooling will be available from the Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center, 202 Harvard SE, at 1 and 6 pm. For more information, please call (505) 242-5511.

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