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Concerns in New Mexico, about taking in out-of-state nuclear waste, as Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has limited space.

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant criticized for accepting out-of-state nuclear waste, Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus,  8 Jan 22, About 200 shipments of nuclear waste were sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant repository near Carlsbad last year for disposal in an underground salt deposit, but New Mexico officials continued criticism that most of the shipments were coming from out of state.

Waste disposed of at WIPP is known as transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste, made up of clothing materials and equipment irradiated during nuclear activities at U.S. Department of Energy facilities across the nation.

TRU waste is shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in northern New Mexico, but also from sites like Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho or Savannah River Site in North Carolina.

Of the 210 shipments recorded in 2021, per DOE records, 55 or 26 percent came from LANL. Another 21 came from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, eight came from Savannah River, two came from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and one came from Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.

The other 123 shipments, or about 58 percent of WIPP shipments last year were from Idaho National Laboratory, where research is conducted on nuclear reactors.

In total, 74 percent or about three quarters of WIPP’s shipments last year came from out of state. 

The State of Idaho entered into a settlement agreement with the DOE in 1995 to prioritize waste shipments from its national laboratory to an out-of-state location: the WIPP site in New Mexico.

But that prioritization is a problem for New Mexico Rep. Christine Chandler (D-43).

Her district represents Los Alamos County, home to LANL, and Chandler said because New Mexico accepts the risk of the waste, its facilities that generate nuclear waste should be given top priority for disposal.

“I feel very strongly that since the WIPP is in New Mexico, and New Mexico accepts the risk for operating that plant that NM waste should be prioritized,” Chandler said. “That would mostly mean from LANL.

“They have a settlement with Idaho and so shipments from there are prioritized to the detriment of actual active sites like LANL.”……………………………..

Chandler’s concerns were echoed in a recent letter from NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney to the Government Accountability Office calling for federal oversight of DOE decisions related to the shipment priorities. 

The Idaho settlement, Kenney argued, was entered without public input from New Mexicans who he said would bear the risk of disposal. 

“The practice of DOE (Office of Emergency Management) solely managing waste shipments to WIPP from around the U.S. without first discussing with New Mexico stakeholders – including NMED as its regulator – now merits immediate congressional oversight,” Kenney wrote.

Other than pressuring federal regulators, Chandler said the State of New Mexico and lawmakers have little recourse to reprioritize disposal at WIPP to benefit their state.

“Truthfully, there is very little we can do. Most of the issues at Los Alamos are driven by federal law. Mostly, it’s placing pressure on the DOE to do the right thing for the state of New Mexico,” Chandler said.

“They need to recognize that LANL is the leading lab and it needs the Department’s full support in all things including clean up.”

Realigning shipment priorities could be achieved through the pending 10-year renewal of WIPP’s operating permit with NMED, said Don Hancock at Albuquerque-based watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center.

He said regardless of priority for wastes from specific facilities, there is not enough room at WIPP for all the DOE’s waste and the federal government should develop alternate repositories.

WIPP is presently the nation’s only deep-geological repository that can dispose of nuclear waste off-site from where it is generated.

“The State of New Mexico now needs to be pushing on other approved repository sites to be permitted,” Hancock said. “They need to enforce the capacity limits. The DOE and Congress are going to have to start looking at alternatives.”…………   https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/local/2022/01/07/wipp-criticized-accepting-out-state-nuclear-waste/9078220002/

January 10, 2022 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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