New Mexico Governor’s WIPP Task Force Holds Meeting
For the first time in three years, the New Mexico Governor’s WIPP Task Force met October 6th to discuss possible negotiations with the federal government about radioactive waste disposal facilities in New Mexico, such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The federal Department of Energy (DOE) owns the WIPP, a deep geologic repository for nuclear weapons wastes located 26 miles east of Carlsbad.
Forty years ago when Governor Bruce King and DOE Secretary James Edward signed the Consultation and Cooperation Agreement, or the “C and C,” the Task Force was established to ensure that DOE lives up to its part of the Agreement. Consultation and Cooperation Agreement as of August 1988cut
The Task Force includes cabinet secretaries from a wide range of state departments, including Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources; Health; Environment; Public Safety; Transportation; and State Fire Marshall. These departments provide staff to a “WIPP Working Group,” under Eletha Trujillo, who summarized the recent work of the WIPP Transportation Safety Program. https://www.emnrd.nm.gov/wipp-transportation-safety-program/the-radioactive-waste-consultation-task-force/
In public comments, Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen thanked the Task Force for holding the meeting. She spoke to the concerns of her constituents in District 2, which includes shipment of more dangerous forms of plutonium to and from Los Alamos National Laboratory on the New Mexico 599 Bypass around Santa Fe. Since DOE’s proposed expansion includes these shipments, many of her constituents are concerned about emergency preparedness. Commissioner Hansen comment RWCTF 10-6-21 https://www.santafecountynm.gov/county_commissioners/anna_hansen
Cindy Weehler, co-chair of 285-ALL, which monitors community issues along Highway 285 south of I-25, said that the public is in the dark about DOE’s plans to double the size of WIPP and transport of more dangerous forms of plutonium.
Don Hancock and former Environment Department Secretary Judith Espinosa, representatives of Southwest Research and Information Center, urged the Task Force to use the C and C Agreement to discuss with DOE the impact of an expanded WIPP on the public health, safety and well being of New Mexicans. SRIC Task Force letter 100421 http://www.sric.org/
Hancock cited two reports that detail DOE’s plans to expand WIPP: the 2020 National Academies of Science (NAS) report and the 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. https://www.nationalacademies.org/our-work/disposal-of-surplus-plutonium-in-the-waste-isolation-pilot-plant and Nuclear Waste Disposal: Better Planning Needed to Avoid Potential Disruptions at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-21-48
Scott Kovac, of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, spoke about a less well-known issue: Fifty waste drums, from the same waste stream that exploded in the WIPP underground on February 14, 2014 remain at the Waste Control Specialists site on the Texas-New Mexico border, five miles east of Eunice. That site does not have the capabilities to remediate those drums and they may be stranded there. DOE is planning to bring new waste streams to WIPP, including tons of “surplus” plutonium from the Savannah River Site. https://nukewatch.org/
John Wilkes, Vice President of the Albuquerque chapter of the Veterans for Peace, urged the Task Force to ensure that WIPP must close in 2024. If not, then only plutonium-contaminated waste from LANL and Sandia National Laboratory should be allowed to be disposed at WIPP. https://vfp-abq.com/
Other states have legal agreements with DOE to reserve space at WIPP for their wastes. New Mexico has those rights, but has not flexed those rights. Hancock encouraged the Task Force to look at that issue as well.
Janet Greenwald, of Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD), expressed her disappointment at the recent public hearings about whether the New Mexico Environment Department should approve DOE’s elaborate expansion plans. She was shocked that no testimony was allowed regarding the unacknowledged expansion. She said, “The suppression of speech was almost unbearable.”
The Task Force may invite DOE to provide testimony at its next meeting. Joni Arends, of CCNS, encourages it to also invite the NAS, GAO and the independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) https://www.dnfsb.gov/ to provide testimony at that meeting to enhance the testimony of the DOE. http://nuclearactive.org/
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- Wed. Oct. 13th –Comments due on increasing the number of Air Tours over Bandelier National Monument to National Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration. Due to errors, the comment period has been extended to Oct. 13th. For more information, visit https://tewawomenunited.org/2021/09/action-alert-no-commercial-air-tours-over-bandelier
- Fri. Oct. 15th – President G.H.W. Bush signed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. It did not include the New Mexico Downwinders and the Post’71 Uranium Workers. Get involved! Contact your congressional members to support the proposed amendments to RECA to include Post’71 Uranium Workers and New Mexico Downwinders – Senate Bill 2798 and House Bill 5338.
- Tues. Oct. 19th from 6 to 7:30 pm – Santa Fe County Nuclear Waste Emergency Response Town Hall at the Nancy Rodriguez Community Center, One Prairie Dog Loop in Santa Fe. For more information, please contact Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen at email@example.com
Tags: 285 ALL, C&C Agreement, CCNS, Cindy Weehler, Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping, Consultation and Cooperation Agreement, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, Department of Energy, DOE, Don Hancock, Eletha Trujillo, Government Accountability Office, Janet Greenwald, Joni Arends, Judith Espinosa, National Academies of Science, New Mexico 599 Bypass, New Mexico Environment Department, New Mexico Governor’s WIPP Task Force, New Mexico Radioactive Waste Consultation Task Force, NMED, Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, Southwest Research and Information Center, Stop Forever WIPP Coalition, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, WIPP, WIPP Transportation Safety Program