DOE Continues Its Push for WIPP Expansion

While publicly denying that it plans to double the size of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the Department of Energy (DOE) continues to ask federal and state regulators to allow a new “west wing” in the underground nuclear waste disposal facility.  DOE’s documents reveal that the west wing needs a new, fifth shaft and associated drifts that have not been permitted by the New Mexico Environment Department for two new waste panels.

On July 30th, DOE submitted a Class 3 permit modification request to the Environment Department’s Hazardous Waste Bureau to construct two new west wing waste areas, named Panels 11 and 12, directly south of the proposed fifth shaft. A virtual public meeting will take place on Thursday, September 2nd from 5 to 7 pm.  Written public comments are invited until October 4th.

Construction of a 2,200-foot deep fifth shaft into the underground would require two new surface facilities, which are a new salt storage cell and a pond to evaporate brine.  CCNS and other groups oppose the proposed cell and pond because the Hazardous Waste Bureau has not permitted the new shaft.  CCNS and other groups that oppose the new shaft submitted filings to the Hearing Officer on Monday of this week, while DOE and the Hazardous Waste Bureau support the new shaft.

The proposed cell and pond will be explored at the virtual public hearing on a draft Environment Department groundwater discharge permit.  The hearing begins on Tuesday, September 7th and public comments are invited.  Talking points and sample public comments will be available soon at

From the NMED website,, click on the Environment Department Cabinet Secretary link, then click on Groundwater Discharge Permit DP-831, Administrative Appeal to Cabinet Secretary, or click here for key information:

DOE is also asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recertify that WIPP will not leak for 10,000 years, or 500 generations.

EPA regulates the long-term performance of the WIPP disposal system for plutonium-contaminated nuclear weapons waste.  One way EPA estimates the long-term performance is to run computer models.  The basis of the models includes the configuration of the repository when it closes.  Since 1999 when WIPP opened, the configuration has remained the same, with no new shaft and west wing.

On April 20th, EPA wrote a letter to DOE about the proposed physical changes to the repository stating that prior EPA approval would be required.  Such approval would require a two-year formal rulemaking process.

EPA also asked for additional information about the waste that DOE plans to emplace in an expanded facility.  DOE will not provide the requested information until next year.  DOE wants to keep WIPP open until 2080, though the existing Permit anticipates ending waste disposal in 2024.  See EPA’s website about the August 17, 2021, Informal Virtual Public Meeting on WIPP Recertification:  Slides and Documents (including the EPA’s April 20, 2021 letter and DOE’s August 12, 2021 response)


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  1. Three ways to listen or watch the August 8, 2021 Taos Environmental Film Festival (TEFF) Taos August Peace Pilgrimage panel discussion with peace and environmental activists discussing the importance of the prohibition of nuclear weapons, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant:


             TEFF at

            Nuclear Hotseat broadcast at

KCEI 90.1 FM – Cultural Energy & Taos Local Television at


  1. Th. Sept. 2 from 5 to 7 pm – Virtual WIPP Public Meeting regarding DOE’s proposal to Expand WIPP – this time, for Construction and Use of Hazardous Waste Disposal Units 11 and 12. This is DOE’s plan to “replace” the panels that were contaminated due to mismanagement (also known as “DOE’s mismanagement panels.”) Public comments are due to NM Environment Department on Monday, October 4, 2021.  For more information see today’s CCNS News Update and   CCNS will prepare talking points and sample public comments you can use.  Stay tuned!


  1. Tues. Sept. 7th – Virtual Public Hearing about the NM Environment Department’s draft groundwater discharge permit, DP-831, for WIPP. For more information see today’s CCNS News Update and  CCNS will prepare talking points and sample public comments you can use.  Stay tuned!


  1. Mon. Sept. 20 – Virtual NM Interim Legislative Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Committee meeting in Gallup, NM. Tina Cordova, of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium (TBDC), the “Trinity Downwinders,” has been asked to present.  More information will be posted here prior to the meeting:



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