nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Problems for introducing permit changes at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Permit changes at WIPP face challenges https://www.abqjournal.com/1267913/permit-changes-at-wipp-face-challenges-ex-new-governor-urged-to-reconsider-predecessors-decision.html, BY MARK OSWALD / JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is encouraging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new administration to reconsider a state government decision made just before she took office Jan. 1 that changes how radioactive waste volume is measured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in effect allowing more waste to placed in the underground repository near Carlsbad.

Udall said last week that limits on how much waste WIPP can hold were critical to federal-state negotiations that led to WIPP’s creation “and were a major reason New Mexico agreed to this mission in the first place.”

“I am encouraging the new administration to take a hard look at this action, and hopeful that it will pause and reconsider this last-minute change that has major ramifications for our state,” the senator said in an email statement.

The controversial state permit modification for WIPP, approved by then-New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate on Dec. 21, changes the way waste volume is calculated to exclude empty space inside waste packaging. With the alteration, WIPP becomes only about a third full instead of 50 percent full.

And there have been indications that the federal Department of Energy – which oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons operations – wants to bring new kinds of waste to WIPP, which the additional space could accommodate. That’s one reason activists opposed the volume calculation change.

In May, DOE Secretary Rick Perry said in a letter to a key member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that 34 tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium was headed to WIPP. Perry at the time was pulling the plug on a troubled, costly and long-delayed effort at the DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina turn the plutonium into fuel rods for nuclear power plants.

Perry confirmed that DOE is removing plutonium from South Carolina, adding, “We are currently processing plutonium for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and intend to continue to do so.”

“I certify that the Department will work with the state of New Mexico to address the capacity issues related to receipt of the full 34 metric tons at WIPP,” Perry wrote in his letter to U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.

Udall said at the time he had serious questions about whether there was enough room at WIPP to store additional waste from Savannah River, given “the clear legal limits” in the 1992 federal act creating WIPP that resulted “following a lawsuit New Mexico won against DOE when I served as Attorney General.”

Udall added: “If DOE is asking New Mexico to take on additional waste missions beyond what is authorized by current law, unilateral action (by DOE) is absolutely not an option.”

WIPP now takes transuranic waste, largely contaminated items and material leftover from plutonium work, including protective clothing. Changing what kind of waste WIPP can hold would require another permit change.

Udall said last week, “If New Mexico is being asked to take on additional waste missions beyond what is authorized by current law, New Mexicans need to have a say – and we should only agree to a new agreement that is in the overall best interest of New Mexico. There needs to be ample time for public input and awareness, and we must ensure that the safety of workers and the public is protected long into the future.”

James Kenney is Lujan Grisham’s recently dubbed secretary-designate of the state environment department. He said in an interview last week that he needs more time to analyze the previous administration’s decision on WIPP volume measurements before speaking on it, but the topic remains “high on (his) list” of priorities.

The change in how the volume of waste is measured came after a request by DOE and WIPP operating and managing contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC. There was public comment period and a three-day public hearing in Carlsbad.

The plutonium that had been slated for conversion to fuel in South Carolina would likely be first diluted with an inert, cement-like material, essentially turning it into waste, an idea called “dilute and dispose” that was conceived by the Obama administration as cheaper than trying to make the excess weapons plutonium into fuel rods.

Advertisements

January 14, 2019 - Posted by | politics, USA, wastes

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: