Why You Should Care about the Expanding WIPP Mission
Cindy Weehler gave a powerful speech during the March 1, 2022 press conference at the New Mexico Capitol about why you should care about the expanding mission for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). People are opposing the Department of Energy (DOE) WIPP expansion plans that violate the law. We provide Weehler’s speech below.
Weehler is Co-Chair of 285 ALL, a neighborhood issues awareness group based south of Interstate 25. Before the press conference, she presented over 1,100 petition signatures to the Governor’s Office. The petition reads:
New Mexicans call on Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to stand up for public health and the environment by stopping the expansion of the nuclear waste facility called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico.
New Mexicans oppose the nuclear waste expansion at WIPP because:
- The federal government’ plans would transport more nuclear weapons waste to WIPP than is allowed.*
- The plutonium nuclear waste in the WIPP expansion is still dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years and endangers the health of our families and future generations.
- Unless New Mexico says ‘NO’ to WIPP expansion, other disposal locations will not be developed, and WIPP and NM will always be the only dump site, which is not fair. New Mexico never agreed to bear the burden of being the only nuclear waste dump site in the country.
- The federal government has not been transparent about its WIPP expansion plans, and has repeatedly refused to discuss the plans publicly, including in hearings on the WIPP Permit. Many New Mexicans are not even aware of those plans. We deserve a transparent and fair process that includes the voices of all impacted communities.
We strongly support, and urge our Governor to take all necessary actions, including denying permits for the piecemeal expansion.
* Federal law and legal agreements with New Mexico clearly limit how much waste WIPP can take, as described in the April 2020 National Academy of Sciences Report – Review of the Department of Energy’s Plans for Disposal of Surplus Plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2020/04/doe-plan-to-dilute-and-dispose-of-surplus-plutonium-at-new-mexico-site-technically-viable-if-security-execution-other-challenges-are-addressed-says-new-report
ACT to contact the Governor: https://stopforeverwipp.org/take-action-1
Press Conference Comments of Cynthia Weehler, Co-Chair of 285ALL
“Today, I’m not only speaking for the communities along Hwy 285, where I live; I’m speaking for all the communities along the radioactive waste route to and from LANL [Los Alamos National Laboratory]…those along NM 502, the farming pueblos, NM 599, those on the southern edge of town, and the ranchers along I-40. I’m also speaking for the communities in these 11 states that will now be included on the transport route, both coming and going. All of these communities will be at a higher level of risk because they’re on the radioactive transport route planned in the new Department of Energy [DOE] mission to expand WIPP. And none of them know about it.
“I’m calling out the DOE and WIPP today. They have covered up the new mission so that the public and our elected officials either don’t understand it or don’t even know about it. They refuse to meet with us. They distort the facts given to the media, even redefining words like transuranic so it now means “not that harmful,” when it means nothing of the sort. They try to break the expansion up into pieces so each one, separately, looks innocent. They act as if they can play [the] public; we disagree.
“So let me be clear, DOE is changing WIPP in every fundamental way, and it will have a huge effect on us:
- The waste will be an unauthorized and much more dangerous form of plutonium,
- When added to the huge new waste stream from new pit production, WIPP will need to hold 50% more waste than is allowed,
- Instead of stopping shipments of waste to WIPP in 2024, it will continue taking more for most of the rest of the century,
- The shipments past our communities will increase many times over, and
- Much of that waste won’t be travelling in TRUPACT containers.
“New Mexico agreed to host WIPP after carefully crafting agreements that limit what the federal government can do with it. It was afraid that this very thing would happen, and DOE didn’t disappoint. WIPP’s mission can only be changed if the DOE breaks every legal agreement that it made with NM in order to get it to host the WIPP site in the first place. These agreements are still in place, it is illegal to break them without changing the law or the permits, and New Mexico simply needs to insist they be honored, something the New Mexico Environment Department has refused to do.
“The DOE is right to withhold this information from New Mexicans; unethical and illegal, but it’s the right thing to do. Because when the public is told, it says, “no.” Over 1,000 New Mexicans from all the zip codes shown on this map signed this petition as soon as they saw it. This is the first any of them had heard about WIPP expanding; the first time the risks had been explained.
“Today, we delivered the petitions to the Governor. The signers ask for her protection from this federal overreach. We ask her because she has the tools, in the form of those agreements, to stop this. The petition says that her constituents support any actions she takes to protect them from this planned expansion and that it’s time for the DOE to find other sites for new waste. We have requested a response by March 15.
“New Mexico has done its part. Our agreements should be honored.
We made them in good faith, and the DOE should not be trying to pull a last-minute bait and switch by bringing waste to WIPP that wasn’t agreed to.
“Most importantly, the DOE doesn’t get to put us at risk quietly, in secret, and in an information blackout. If it wants to try to put us at risk, it had better do so openly and in the full light of day.”
Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, Tewa Elder Kathy Wanpovi Sanchez, and Quay County ranchers Ed and Patty Hughs also provided comments.
1. CANCELLED: March 3rd at 5:30 pm – WIPP Virtual and In Person Community Forum with Reinhard Knerr, Manager of the DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office, and Sean Dunagan, President & Project Manager of Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC. Forum will be rescheduled.
2. Sunday, March 6th at noon to 1 pm – International Day of Action for Peace in Ukraine, at the corners of West Alameda and Guadalupe in Santa Fe. What better place than where LANL has office space? Please note: LANL is the only Department of Energy (DOE) facility with the capabilities to fabricate plutonium pits, or triggers, for nuclear weapons. Join us for a peaceful demonstration. This Sunday, March 6th will be an international day of action for peace in Ukraine, a massive, unified response by peace-loving people around the world to say No to War in Ukraine; Yes to Negotiations and Peace. Find an event near you or sign up to organize one! We must make it clear that the war in Ukraine is a disaster for the people of Ukraine and a terrible threat to us all, including increasing the danger of nuclear war. There must be an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. You can downloaded posters for your rally here. National and local peace organizations are encouraged to join the coalition supporting the Global Day of Action. As UFPJ’s Statement on the Ukraine Crisis declares, it is “time to start stopping the wars: no war in Ukraine, then no war anywhere…. The peace movement must be a global people’s movement, aligned with the policies of no government.” Read the full statement. UFPJ has also created a Ukraine Crisis resource page, which is updated regularly. Please check it frequently for new analysis, commentary, and links to recent webinars.
3. Progressive Democrats of America Central NM Chapter
Monthly Community Gathering
Wednesday March 9
6:00 PM on ZOOM
Join the Zoom Meeting at:
Archbishop John C.Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe
Jay Coghlan, of NukeWatch NM
PDACNM is honored to welcome Archbishop John C. Wester, Archbishop of Santa Fe to our monthly gathering. His courage in speaking out against the proliferation of nuclear weapons inspires us at PDACNM to follow his example and continue the fight against this peril, especially given the threat of a possible imminent war between two nuclear powers.
The following excerpt is from ICAN – International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. You can read the rest of the article here.
On 11 January 2022, Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico circulated a letter in support of nuclear weapons abolition and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to all the parishes in his diocese.
In the letter, Wester outlines the risks and consequences of the new nuclear arms race and highlights the unique role of New Mexico in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and of the Santa Fe diocese to support nuclear disarmament. He calls for an open dialogue on nuclear disarmament and redirecting resources from the nuclear arms race to peaceful objectives, like cleaning up nuclear contamination and addressing climate change.
New Mexico is at the heart of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, with two major nuclear weapons laboratories – the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories- located in the state and nearly 40% of the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons budget allocated for work in New Mexico. It was also the site of the first nuclear test explosion in July 1945 and has the largest repository of nuclear weapons in the country.
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe has a “special responsibility” he states, to support the TPNW (Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Arms) and to encourage its active implementation. “It is the duty of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the birthplace of nuclear weapons, to support that Treaty while working toward universal, verifiable nuclear disarmament,” Wester writes.
Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, has worked successfully against radioactive incineration at the Los Alamos National Lab, and in Clean Air Act, Freedom of Information Act and National Environmental Policy Act lawsuits against the Department of Energy. He prompted a 2006 independent study that concluded plutonium pits last at least a century, refuting the NNSA’s assertion that we “need” new-design nuclear weapons and expanded plutonium pit production.
Jay will tell us how the new nuclear arms race is more dangerous than the first one. How it might lead to a nuclear hot war over Ukraine. And how devastating a nuclear war would be for everyone, including us.
You’ll learn about the nuclear weapons “modernization” program and the fancy new warheads being designed for it. You’ll be shocked to learn the amount of taxpayer money being wasted on this unnecessary program.
Jay will explain how the nuclear “modernization” program is dependent on new plutonium bomb cores (called “pits”) to be produced at the Los Alamos National Lab and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. And why future plutonium pit production, in addition to its grotesque costs and environmental harms, could actually degrade national security.
Finally, we will engage with Jay in discussing how we can work together to slow the international arms race by hobbling the nuclear modernization program. Since the Pentagon has called expanded pit production the #1 modernization issue, then all we have to do is to stop future pit production, right?
How will we do this? Let’s talk about it on March 9th! Please join us!
Tags: Cindy Weehler, Co-Chair 285 ALL, Department of Energy, DOE, expansion, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, LANL, Los Alamos National Laboratory, National Academies of Science Report - Review of the Department of Energy's Plans for Disposal of Surplus Plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, Tewa Elder Kathy Wanpovi Sanchez Quay County ranchers Ed and Patty Hughs, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, WIPP