WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit Hearing Begins Monday, August 9 at Santa Fe Community College

August 6, 2010

The public hearing for the renewal of the ten-year hazardous waste permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) begins at 9 am on Monday, August 9, at the Santa Fe Community College. Comments from the public will be accepted at 1 pm everyday of the hearing. An evening session for public comment is scheduled for Tuesday, August 10 from 6 to 8 pm at the College.

A draft permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department earlier this spring allows for continued operations of WIPP, which is a disposal facility for plutonium-contaminated waste generated by the manufacturing of nuclear bombs. WIPP is located in the salt beds east of Carlsbad, New Mexico and waste is shipped there from Department of Energy (DOE) sites around the country.

DOE opened WIPP in March of 1999 during the 19 days of the original hazardous waste permit hearing. In contrast, and because there are few changes proposed in the permit, it is anticipated that the hearing on the renewal will last a few days. The main issues involve whether "surge" storage will be allowed and the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the waste disposal area.

Cancer-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are in thousands of the waste containers being shipped to WIPP. One of those VOCs is carbon tetrachloride, which was used in the manufacturing of nuclear bombs and other products, but now is little used because of its health effects and it depletes ozone in the atmosphere. Over the past 18 months, the amount of carbon tetrachloride in the air in the WIPP underground has increased significantly, requiring actions to reduce those levels.

Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, said, "Even though the allowed levels were increased by 2.5 times this spring, WIPP officials want to increase them by four times more. There is no justification for such an increase."

"Surge" storage was approved in 2006, because WIPP officials argued that they needed to have the capability to have additional trucks loaded with waste in the parking lot at WIPP. The justification for the surge storage was the increasing number of waste shipments and the possibility of equipment failure or other problems that could delay that waste from being emplaced underground. However, the amount of waste coming to WIPP has been less than projected, and the surge storage has not been used. Many non-governmental organizations are urging the Environment Department to delete that section of the permit because it is unnecessary.

For more information about the hearing, please visit the Environment Department website at www.nmenv.state.nm.us/wipp

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