Public Comment Needed on Proposed New WIPP Expansion

On January 31, 2018, the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), submitted a Class 2 Permit Modification Request to change the way that waste is measured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the repository for defense plutonium-contaminated or TRU waste, located in southeastern New Mexico. Public comments can be submitted to the New Mexico Environment Department until Tuesday, April 3.

Because the federal WIPP Land Withdrawal Act limits the amount of waste to 6.2 million cubic feet, how to measure the amount of waste is important. Waste emplaced at WIPP has always been measured based on the volume of the container. By container volume is the way DOE has always reported to Congress how much waste is at WIPP. By container volume is how DOE contractors have been paid and received performance bonuses. By container volume is the way that the WIPP Permit and permits in other states calculate the amount of waste.

The modification request would create an additional measurement, called the “Land Withdrawal Act TRU Waste Volume of Record [which] means the volume of TRU waste inside a disposal container.” The request explains that the effect of the change would reduce the amount of waste emplaced in WIPP as of December 6, 2017, from 3,238,673 cubic feet to 2,307,708 cubic feet.

Thus, if approved, the new measurement would expand the amount of waste allowed by more than 930,000 cubic feet, or a more than 28 percent increase.

An unstated reason for the proposed measurement is that space for more than 1,000,000 cubic feet of waste has been forfeited or lost because of bad DOE management, poor contractor performance, and inefficiencies during the past 19 years of WIPP’s operations.

The public can submit comments so that the Environment Department either denies the request or considers it as a class 3 modification request. Class 3 modifications require more public participation and public hearings where witnesses would testify under oath and be cross-examined.

Permit regulations require such a Class 3 process when there is significant public concern, or if the change is complex, or when there is a 25 percent or greater increase in the facility storage capacity.

Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, explained that through their comments the public can demonstrate significant public concern. He added, “Such a large expansion in the amount of waste at WIPP should require Congress to pass a law. Any such expansion certainly is not allowed as a Class 2 permit modification.”

Public comments can be submitted by Tuesday, April 3, 2018 by emailed to or mailed to

Mr. Ricardo Maestas
New Mexico Environment Department
Hazardous Waste Bureau
2905 Rodeo Park Drive E, Building 1
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505

Here is a sample public comment letter for you to use: WIPP Amt of Waste PMR public comment 3-15-18


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