More Nuclear Waste May Come To New Mexico
There are about 5,600 cubic meters of nuclear waste that the United States Department of Energy (DOE) does not know what to do with. The DOE has proposed to bury this waste in the ground, perhaps in New Mexico.
These wastes, called Greater-Than-Class-C (GTCC) wastes, are the most radioactive form of low-level waste and are dangerous for hundreds of years. GTCC is a catch all term that includes waste with a wide range of radioactivity. DOE is currently evaluating locations across the country to bury the GTCC radioactive wastes as well as disposal methods.
DOE is evaluating three types of disposal. One is Deep Geologic Repository Disposal at a facility such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), where the waste is placed deep in the earth. The second is Enhanced Near-Surface Disposal, which involves placing the wastes in trenches, vaults, or other similar facilities. And the third, Borehole Disposal, in which the waste is placed in a hole that is drilled into the ground more than 30 meters from the surface. All of these methods are irretrievable, which means that it will be very difficult to remove the waste in the future.
Community groups are requesting that Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) be considered as an additional alternative and implemented by DOE. HOSS means that the storage facility would be designed and reinforced against potential terrorist attacks, such as an intentional aircraft crash that could result in offsite contamination. In addition, keeping the waste in Hardened On-Site Storage would reduce the risk of accidents or a terrorist attack during transportation. While HOSS is not a permanent solution, it will allow for long-term storage of GTCC wastes so that they can be monitored and then retrieved once a better solution is found.
New Mexican decision-makers remain skeptical about the burial of GTCC wastes at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Senator Bingaman stated, "It's clear to me that LANL is not an ideal location for this type of 'enhanced near-surface facility,' especially given that DOE does not yet have a complete understanding of the geological formation on which the lab rests."
Community groups maintain that large amounts of GTCC waste should not be brought to New Mexico. At LANL existing wastes have not been cleaned up and continue to threaten groundwater. Burying the waste at WIPP would require changing the federal law and risks opening it up to other types of wastes, including high-level radioactive wastes from spent fuel rods. WIPP cannot even accommodate the volumes of bomb production waste that DOE has projected for it, let alone new wastes.
As required by law, DOE held public meetings across the country at the sites which may be impacted by this proposalto discuss the scope of the proposal. In New Mexico hearings were held in Carlsbad and Los Alamos.
DOE accepted written comment. Click here to download CCNS scoping comments.