Public Comments Needed on Proposed Major WIPP Expansion

On August 6th, the 73rd anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the New Mexico Environment Department opened the public comment period for expanding the amount of radioactive and hazardous waste allowed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) by approximately 30 percent.  In a unique request, the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, want the Environment Department to change the way that waste is measured.  They want to measure only the waste in the containers, not the volume of the waste containers, such as a 55-gallon steel drum.

The request explains that the effect of the change would reduce the amount of waste emplaced in WIPP as of December 6, 2017 by 930,000 cubic feet, from 3,238,673 cubic feet to 2,307,708 cubic feet.  Nevertheless, DOE has not explained where the additional waste would be disposed, nor why the change is needed now when WIPP is less than 60 percent filled., scroll down to August 6, 2018 for a listing of pertinent documents.

WIPP is a deep geologic repository for plutonium-contaminated transuranic waste, also known as TRU waste, created by manufacturing nuclear weapons, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

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.”

An unstated reason for the proposed measurement is that space for more than one million 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.  Because of poor planning and inefficiencies, DOE and its contractors ship and dispose of many empty, or dunnage, containers and neglects to fill containers to capacity.

Don Hancock, of Southwest Research and Information Center, said, “For the Environment Department to approve the proposed change risks the health and environment for all New Mexicans.”

A sample public comment letter you can use is available here.  WIPP Amt of Waste public comment 8-8-18  Public comments can be emailed to by 5 pm Mountain Standard Time on Thursday, September 20th.


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