State Fire Marshal Claims that WIPP not Prepared for Transporting Remote-Handled Waste

NNSA Official Refuses to Meet with Shundahai Walkers

* At a public meeting to discuss Department of Energy (or DOE) plans to begin shipping remote-handled radioactive waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) near Carlsbad, State Fire Marshal George Chavez expressed doubts that WIPP transportation is safe enough is to handle this more dangerous waste. DOE proposes to transport waste so deadly that it can only be handled remotely using robots and transported in shielded casks. Chavez, who heads the state emergency team that responds to hazardous waste accidents, says that WIPP is out of compliance with the basic regulations required for the transport of hazardous materials.

Chavez's team also inspects WIPP trucks as they enter New Mexico from surrounding states. Chavez said that the TRUPACT containers, which were specially designed for transportation of transuranic waste to WIPP, are fine. Rather, he says that much of the mechanical equipment on which the TRUPACT containers are shipped is not compliant with safety regulations. Chavez said, "We do find violations that don't place the vehicles out of service, [such as] safety defects like cracked springs, loose shock absorbers, or drivers that don't log the amount of hours that they drive."

Scott Field, WIPP director for the Department of Public Safety, said that although such violations may be common to any commercial transport vehicle, in the case of WIPP trucks, "one violation is too many."

Anne Clark, WIPP task force coordinator, said, "We are prepared for approval to go through. It was WIPP's mission all along to transport a percentage of remote-handled waste." Chavez, however, says that WIPP must prove its compliance before this waste can be approved.

There have been several problems with WIPP shipments since March 1999, when WIPP opened. For instance, one driver missed his intended exit onto US 285 and drove for 27 miles on a section of Interstate 25 that is not part of the WIPP route. Also, earlier this year, there were two accidents involving WIPP shipments, both of which resulted in the return of the shipments to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

* Shundahai Network's Family Spirit Walk for Mother Earth, which has traversed 800 miles in two months, approached the Nevada office of the National Nuclear Security Administration (or NNSA) only to find that public relations head Darwin Morgan would not speak to them.

The Family Spirit Walk began on August 9th at Tsangawi, a site in New Mexico sacred to the Tewa people, proceeded through Los Alamos and many indigenous communities affected by the nuclear weapons complex, and finally reached the Nevada Test Site and Yucca Mountain this week. Walkers gathered at NNSA, but were refused entrance to the main building and attempted to phone Morgan to voice their concerns about nuclear issues. Morgan responded, "I have no reason to talk to you."

Walkers range in age from 15 months to more than 70 years old, from all over the world. Steve Lamar, of New Mexico, said, "Humans are the custodians of planet earth; we want to protect it for our children, and children's children."

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