Good Enough for Government Work??
Department of Energy (DOE) is trying to weaken the WIPP operating
permit just six months after the permit went into effect.
This permit, issued
by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), regulates mixed
waste at WIPP. Mixed waste is radioactive waste that is mixed
with hazardous materials like solvents and mercury. Most of the
WIPP waste is mixed waste. The permit regulates how these wastes
are handled and packaged at sites that ship waste to WIPP and
limits what can go to WIPP.
The mixed waste permit
for WIPP went into effect on November 26, 1999. Even before the
permit was in effect, DOE filed suit against five provisions of
the permit. Although the courts have not yet ruled on these provisions,
DOE and NMED held secret meetings and agreed among themselves
that four provisions would be changed by permit modification.
WHAT ARE PERMIT
By law, mixed waste
dumps like WIPP must have a permit that regulates their operations.
(This permit regulates only the hazardous part of the mixed waste.)
A permit can be approved only after review by the regulatory agency
(NMED) and public hearings in which citizens comment and technical
experts testify and are cross-examined. Changes or modifications
to the permit must also go through a public process. CLASS 1 MODIFICATIONS
are minor changes on the level of typographical errors or the
names of personnel, phone numbers, etc. There is no public
comment allowed on Class 1 modifications and the public is not
even informed of them until after they are approved. CLASS
2 MODIFICATIONS are more major changes and require public notice
and a 60-day public comment period. CLASS 3 MODIFICATIONS require
public notice, comment for at least 60 days and full public hearings.
THE CLASS 1 MODIFICATION
DOE shipped waste to
WIPP before getting a permit. This waste did not pass permit regulations
but was "self-regulated" by the DOE. The original permit had a
condition which prevented putting waste that had been approved
under the permit in the same rooms with this self-regulated waste.
During the original
permit hearings the Hearing Officer considered this permit condition
to be "...the most controversial and provocative issue raised
in the proceeding." and said "...that it...is necessary to protect
public health and the environment, is beyond serious dispute."
NMED itself also stated that this condition was necessary to protect
human health and the environment. There was extensive testimony
on this condition from all sides and Parties to the hearing were
even requested to write a special report it on it. The language
of the Class 1 modification is exactly the same language as that
previously proposed by DOE during the original permit hearings
and rejected by NMED at that time. Now, however, even though
the delay until new rooms are available will only be a few months,
NMED has approved this very controversial change as a Class 1
modification?putting it on the same level as a typo?with no public
participation, comment or even notification that DOE had submitted
THE TAKING AWAY OF YOUR RIGHTS
It is more important
to protest the process of approving this Class 1 modification
than anything else you could do during this comment period.
NMED has given indications that it might reconsider its actions
on this modification and the level of public protest will definitely
affect its decision. Clearly the modification should be at least
a Class 2 and probably even a Class 3. For DOE and NMED to work
together to bypass public participation is outrageous and is only
the beginning of the slippery slope of allowing anything at all
into WIPP. (Officials are already suggesting that if the proposed
high level waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada isn't approved?a
good possibility?WIPP would be a good place for the thousands
of used fuel rods from the nation's nuclear reactors.)
1. Changes in determining how many waste containers must be
opened for visual examination (miscertification rate). DOE
must visually examine a certain percentage of containers to double
check their other methods of certifying what is the containers
of waste (X-raying the drums, checking records etc.) The number
of containers opened is determined by how many were certified
incorrectly in the past (miscertified). The permit requires drums
to be examined on a "waste stream" basis. There are hundreds of
waste streams of different types of wastes. DOE wants to base
examination on only 3 large "summary category groups"?homogenous
solids, soils/gravels, and debris wastes. This would substantially
reduce the amount of visual examination and significantly increase
the likelihood that prohibited items like corrosives and explosives
would be disposed at WIPP.
2. No sampling for
VOCs in the headspace of containers if information about the waste
generating process shows that the waste doesn't contain VOC-related
hazardous wastes. VOCs (Volatile Organic compounds) are mostly
fumes from solvents in the waste. This modification is unacceptable
because there is actually very little information in the records
on the hazardous part of the waste. Therefore, records could indicate
no VOCs in the waste when in fact, they were actually present.
Four of the six Class two modifications are reasonable. These
1. Alternate method
for groundwater testing: Instead of measuring gross alpha
and beta radiation in water samples taken to see if WIPP is leaking,
DOE proposes measuring specific radionuclides that are at WIPP
like plutonium and americium.
2. Sampling for
volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Taking one large sample
instead of 3 small samples when testing for VOCs in homogeneous
3. No sampling for
VOCs in the headspace of containers if the waste was thermally
processed. Heating the waste to a high enough temperature
will cause all the VOCs to evaporate.
4. Revise criteria
for demonstrating the accuracy of the procedures and instruments
used to measure cresols and pyridine These compounds are semi-volatile
organic compounds (SVOCs) but the permit incorrectly used data
for VOCs. This modification would substitute the correct data.
Written comments will
be considered by NMED. All written comments should be sent to
Steve Zappe, New Mexico Environment Department, 2044A Galisteo
Street, Santa Fe, NM 87505. They can also be submitted by e-mail
To be sure your comments are considerred they must be received
by June 8th. (Comments on some modifications can be received as
late as June 25th. Check the NMED
website for more details.)
For more information
on the permit and the permit modifications read summaries of the
original permit hearings at CCNS's site www.nuclearactive.org.
Also check out NMED on WIPP at www.nmenv.state.nm.us
and DOE on WIPP at www.wipp.carlsbad.nm.us.
You can also call DOE at 800-336-9477 or NMED at 505-827-1560
This flyer was prepared
jointly by CARD, CCNS, Nuclear Watch, Peace Action, and SRIC
DOE's Plan to Expand WIPP