NMED Rejects WIPP Permit Modifications and Issues Notice of Violation to DOE

New WIPP Transportation Issues Arise

* The New Mexico Environment Department (or NMED) has rejected the proposed Class 1 permit modifications to the permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP), and issued a notice of violation to the Department of Energy (or DOE) regarding the proposed permit modifications. In two statements released this week, NMED has issued the violation because DOE submitted and put into effect permit modifications that did not meet NMED's requirements for proper Class 1 permit modifications.

Class 1 permit modifications are considered those which are non-substantive changes to the permit and easily reversed, such as correcting typographical errors in the text of the permit, and the necessary updating of names, addresses and phone numbers. However, DOE's proposed permit modifications requested the use of composited headspace gas data to allow up to 20 composited samples. This means that when sampling the headspace gas in drums of waste, DOE would be allowed to average the levels of contamination found for 20 barrels of waste, rather than five, which is the current standard. This larger average would dilute the level of contamination in drums that have higher levels than others, in terms of characterization of waste.

NMED rejected this proposal, saying that Class 1 modifications should be of a trivial nature and, "These modifications clearly do not meet the standard of simplicity for Class 1 modifications."

The NMED also rejected DOE's request for temporary authorization of these modifications, which would allow DOE to carry out the modifications before NMED has made its final decision on them. NMED issued a notice of violation against DOE because DOE submitted and put into effect modifications that did not meet the requirement for Class 1 permit modifications, effectively violating some of the permit conditions required in the original WIPP permit. According to state law, NMED may issue a compliance order that requires compliance with their requests immediately or NMED may suspend or revoke the WIPP permit.

Activists are pleased with the strong position that NMED has taken on this issue. Since DOE proposed the modifications in July 2000, many groups have been worried that these modifications would substantially change the way that waste is characterized for disposal at WIPP.

New WIPP Transportation Issues Arise

Transportation of nuclear waste to WIPP has resumed after a two weeks hiatus due to the terrorist attack of September 11th. The first shipments were sent from Coloradošs Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. Several more from Rocky Flats, the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (or INEEL), and the Savannah River Site are planned for this week.

The first shipment out of INEEL was delayed because the driver's WIPP certification had expired.

The State of New Mexico had been told that shipments would not resume until October 1, at the earliest. Citizens are concerned that the notice of resumption of shipments is not adequate for the State to readily conduct inspections of each shipment. In addition, DOE has provided no information that security has improved. Don Hancock, of Albuquerque's Southwest Research and Information Center said, "We have long argued that WIPP shipments should be escorted, which would improve security, the safety of the shipments, and provide emergency responders on the scene when accidents occur."

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