• * WIPP will at best take care of only 15% of all U.S. nuclear weapons waste;

  • * Radioactive contamination at Hanford is more widespread than previously thought; and

  • * UNM and CCNS Announce Environmental Health Working Partnership.

    * The Department of Energy (or DOE) is spending about 3.7 million dollars in public relations each year to convince the public that the 19 billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) is a safe solution for the dumping of nuclear weapons waste from around the country. Over half of the people polled in New Mexico said they would vote against WIPP's opening if the facility were to be put up to a vote.

    Long-time WIPP critic Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque said, "WIPP makes very little contribution to solving the nation's nuclear waste problem, even if it works perfectly. All of the sites sending waste to WIPP will continue to be waste sites." According to DOE's own numbers, none of the nuclear weapons production sites would send more than 15 per cent of their waste to WIPP. Spent fuel from nuclear reactors, high-level radioactive waste, so-called "low- level" waste and various other buried radioactive wastes would be left. Many critics of WIPP feel money should be spent to monitor and clean up transuranic wastes that were buried decades ago that are not slated to go to WIPP. Much of the old weapons waste was often dumped in unlined shallow trenches or, as in the case at Los Alamos National Laboratory, in unlined shafts on a narrow mesa.

    In addition to the fact that WIPP will take care of only 15 percent of nuclear weapons waste from around the country, 70% by volume of the facility is being reserved for transuranic wastes resulting from future nuclear weapons research and production. Transuranic (or TRU) wastes are generally plutonium-contaminated wastes which WIPP is suppose to take care of. DOE has stated that the only facility in the country expected to produce TRU wastes in the future is the Plutonium Processing Facility at Los Alamos. Thus New Mexico will be the location for both the only TRU waste-generating facility and the only TRU waste dump. Some WIPP critics contend that WIPP is ultimately a political solution for DOE that will enable the Department to continue future nuclear weapons research and production.

    Los Alamos is one of ten DOE weapons facilities where consolidation, characterization and repackaging of transuranic waste will take place. Tru wastes from the Pantex Plant in Texas and Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque are expected to be shipped to LANL and stored there until they can be shipped to WIPP. This waste will not have the same strict standards as when it is finally and officially classified as WIPP waste. If WIPP opens, the transportation of just LANL TRU waste will last for at least 10 years, putting New Mexico communities on the WIPP route at risk. Highway 285/84 between Santa Fe and Pojoaque is considered to be one of the 20 most dangerous roads in the United States and the most hazardous segment on the proposed WIPP route. That highway has recently seen a sharp rise in accidents, along with the steep and winding State Road 502 between LANL and Pojoaque Pueblo.

    * In the State of Washington, the Columbia River is at risk of radioactive contamination from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where a half-century's worth of highly radioactive and poisonous byproducts of nuclear weapons production are stored in huge underground tanks, some of which leak. Some experts are convinced that the contamination has reached underground acquifers and is flowing toward the Columbia River. These tanks hold a complex mixture of liquids, solids and sludges, as well as a variety of chemicals used to recover uranium and plutonium from reactor fuel. If leaks from these tanks reach the Columbia River through groundwater, radioactive material would eventually find its way into the food chain, potentially exposing people to radiation for centuries.

    DOE has always claimed that any radioactive material that leaked would be chemically bound to the soil and would not rapidly migrate, but recent measurements now show that cesium and other radioactive materials have moved farther than expected. DOE has been trying to reduce the possibility of future leaks by pumping the toxic brew from the 28 oldest tanks, some of which contain as much as one million gallons. The pumping operations were slowed down because of cuts to cleanup budgets, while at other sites, such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, budgets for nuclear weapons programs continue to rise.

    * The University of New Mexico and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety have formed a working partnership to explore environmental health concerns created by the Department of Energy's nuclear operations in New Mexico. The collaboration will be funded by a three year grant from DOE to UNM's Masters in Public Health Program. The award is one condition of CCNS's successful settlement against DOE for Los Alamos National Laboratory's longstanding violations of the federal Clean Air Act. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, DOE is required to fund the UNM Masters in Public Health Program in order to establish a curriculum in environmental health issues related to radiation and the Clean Air Act.

    In addition to the UNM award, CCNS' Clean Air Act settlement requires DOE to pay for independent, non-governmental auditing of the laboratory's Radioactive Air Emissions Monitoring Program. The audits are being conducted by Dr. John Till, President of the South Carolina-based Radiological Assessments Corporation. A Clean Air Act community meeting, at which Dr. Till will attend, is scheduled for Tuesday, October 28th, from 7:00 to 8:30 PM at Santa Clara Pueblo in the Santa Clara Neighborhood Facility. The public is encouraged to attend.

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