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New Mexico governor fears expansion of Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, to take even more high level nuclear waste

Nuclear Nerves. Governor says she’s concerned about possible increase in radioactive shipments through Santa Fe County, but a bigger worry remains.

Reporter, By Bella DavisNovember 03, 2021

Santa Fe-area activists and residents have been sounding the alarm that more nuclear waste shipments will soon be traveling through the county on their way to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant—the nation’s only long-term storage facility for transuranic radioactive waste, located near Carlsbad.

Equal parts questions and foreboding answers have dominated two recent town halls hosted by Santa Fe County officials and anti-nuclear activists. While the US Department of Energy is not exactly forthcoming about the future, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says such expansion would be limited to the capacity of state vehicle inspections.

The Energy Department must submit to inspections for all WIPP trucks and trucks that leave Los Alamos National Laboratory under an intergovernmental agreement. New Mexico State Police conducts those inspections—averaging about six or seven a week with the capacity for 20. The agency does not plan to hire additional staff to increase inspection capabilities, Lt. Mark Soriano writes in an email to SFR.

The Department of Energy tells SFR the rate of shipments to WIPP is “expected to increase to 10-12 shipments per week” over the next few months, but it has also put in requests with the state to expand the facility’s underground capabilities and announced earlier this year that it was going to prepare an environmental impact statement to dispose of surplus plutonium at WIPP.

A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham says the governor is concerned about the possibility of future WIPP expansion and the notion of increased nuclear materials shipments through the state. But Lujan Grisham believes there’s a more pressing, immediate problem embedded in New Mexico’s long relationship with the nuclear industry and all that comes with it.

Her “biggest concern,” Nora Meyers Sackett, the spokeswoman, says, is that the US Department of Energy “continues to prioritize shipments from other states to…WIPP while failing to expedite cleanup of waste at Los Alamos” National Laboratory.

Lujan Grisham says the Energy Department’s position is “unacceptable,” Meyers Sackett tells SFR in a series of answers to emailed questions.

In February, the New Mexico Environment Department sued DOE over what it says is a “continuing pattern of delay and noncompliance” of legacy waste cleanup at Los Alamos, asking for a court-supervised process to resolve the issue. In its initial answer to the lawsuit, DOE “denies that [the state] is entitled to the relief it seeks.” Settlement negotiations in federal court are ongoing…………

Weehler worries about an accident, the odds of which would go up with increased shipments under WIPP’s plans for expansion, and that emergency responders wouldn’t be able to respond fast enough before people were exposed…………

November 4, 2021 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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