DOE Plans to Bring More Plutonium to WIPP and LANL

Please help us to Speak Out against the DOE plans by sending a letter.

The Department of Energy (DOE) wants to bring more "hot" Remote-Handled (RH) plutonium-contaminated transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) without providing adequate justification and without an opportunity for a public hearing.

DOE has submitted a hazardous waste permit modification request to the New Mexico Environment Department so that it can transport and dispose of RH waste in lead shielded containers. RH waste would continue to be shipped and disposed in large canisters placed in the walls of the underground rooms, as has been done since January 2007. If the Environment Department approves the request, RH waste in the shielded containers could be trucked to WIPP and emplaced on the floor in the underground rooms along with the contact-handled transuranic waste. Each shielded container would hold one 30-gallon container of RH waste.

Click for a Fact Sheet with further information about the DOE plan.

When WIPP opened in 1999, disposal of RH waste was prohibited. Since RH waste has been permitted, DOE has not shipped RH waste at a rate to use the available disposal capacity. Consequently, about one-half of the planned RH space in the walls of the underground rooms cannot be used. This is because contact-handled waste has been already been emplaced, making the walls inaccessible.

There are several concerns about the DOE proposal, including the substantial increase in the amount of RH waste that would be shipped to WIPP, stored aboveground, and disposed underground. The amount of RH waste in the WIPP inventory is more than 2,000 canisters more than will fit in the remaining designated space.

Further, contrary to what DOE says, shielded containers cannot be handled the same as contact-handled waste. Shielded containers that are damaged or leaking could be too radioactive to be placed in over-pack containers without exposing workers and the public. DOE also plans to use shielded containers for hotter commercial nuclear waste, which requires changing federal law to expand WIPP beyond its legal limit of 175,564 cubic meters of defense plutonium-contaminated transuranic waste. And, shielded containers have never been used.

The Environment Department denied a similar request on January 31, 2012 because of public opposition and the inadequacies of the request.

Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, says, "DOE refuses to discuss a major reason for shielded containers, which is to address its mismanagement of WIPP that results in too little space for RH waste. DOE's failures should not produce additional dangers to workers and the public from hot wastes that do not have to come to WIPP."

Public comments are due on September 10, 2012. They may be submitted to Trais Kliphuis at the New Mexico Environment Department by email to:

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