Santa Fe City Council Passes Resolution Opposing Modern Pit Facility

DOE Secretly Ships High-Level Radioactive Waste from New York to Idaho

* The Santa Fe City Council this week passed a resolution opposing the construction and operation of a Modern Pit Facility (MPF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory or anywhere. Furthermore, the Councilors directed the city clerk to inform the New Mexico Congressional delegation, Governor Richardson and the responsible agencies of their objections. The MPF could produce as many as 500 new nuclear weapons per year.

The resolution, introduced by Councilor Matthew Ortiz and supported by Councilors Bushee, Heldemeyer, Coss, Chavez and Wurzburger, states, "The governing body of the city of Santa Fe does not support the creation of further health and environmental hazards related to nuclear weapons for the citizens of northern New Mexico...."

Following the vote, Councilor Ortiz said, "I hope that the resolution we passed opposing the MPF sends a strong signal to our Washington delegation and to the Department of Energy that northern New Mexico does not want and will resist any expansion of the nuclear program in our backyards."

* The Department of Energy (DOE) recently secretly shipped by rail an undisclosed amount of high-level radioactive waste from the West Valley Demonstration Project Site in New York to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL). DOE cited security concerns to account for the secrecy of the shipment, although critics believe that DOE was attempting to minimize public comment on an already controversial plan.

The waste, which was delayed after the September 11 terrorist attacks, traveled more than 2,300 miles from West Valley to INEEL. West Valley is a commercial reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel. In 1980, President Carter authorized West Valley to prepare high-level radioactive waste for permanent disposal. This preparation includes vitrification of the waste and shipping it to an appropriate disposal facility. The waste prepared at West Valley is similar to that which would be shipped to the Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository in Nevada, should the facility ultimately be built.

Critics are concerned that the shipment may set a precedent for possible future high-level waste shipments to Yucca Mountain. In a letter criticizing DOE's actions, Lisa Gue, of Public Citizen, said, "If this is how DOE handles one shipment, what are we to expect when they are managing hundreds or thousands at a time?"

John Chamberlain, of West Valley, said that only those who "needed to know" of the shipment were informed. DOE failed to inform Bill King, town supervisor of Ash Ford, New York, the location of West Valley. King said that he was angry upon seeing the train go through Ash Ford, saying, "My own people ... could have been taken into something that could have killed them." King and other Ash Ford residents learned of the shipment only when the first train in 10 years pulled through Ash Ford.

Decisionmakers are also concerned about DOE's secret shipment. New York Representative Amory Houghton, in a letter to DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham, said, "Spencer, really. This is irresponsible stuff, don't you think?"

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