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Nuclear waste permit ‘more stringent’ New Mexico says as feds look to renew for 10 years

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, 12 Dec 22

Tougher rules for a nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad could be on the way as New Mexico officials sought “more stringent” regulations as the federal government sought to renew its permit with the state for the facility.  

The State sought new requirements to prioritize nuclear waste from within New Mexico for disposal, called for an accounting of all of the waste planned for disposal in the next decade and regular updates on federal efforts to find the location for a new repository as conditions of the permit.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy which holds a permit with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) that must be updated every 10 years.

The facility sees transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste from DOE facilities around the country disposed of via burial in an underground salt formation about 2,000 feet beneath the surface.

The upcoming renewal, expected by the end of next year, involved negotiations between NMED and the DOE, months of public comments and hearings and multiple expected revisions.

A draft permit was scheduled for public release Dec. 20, and the NMED released on Dec. 8 several conditions it proposed to add to the permit.

The release of the draft will be followed by a 60-day period when NMED will accept comments from the public, and the agency intended to hold a public hearing next summer.

NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said the State wanted a permit with stronger regulations moving forward, to better protect people and the environment from the impacts of nuclear waste disposal.

“It will be more stringent, full stop,” Kenney said. “The conditions were adding to it are designed to add more accountability to the whole complex that are sending waste to WIPP.”………………………………..

State of New Mexico says priority should go to New Mexico nuclear waste

Key among the revisions was prioritizing nuclear waste held at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico, where the DOE develops nuclear weapons.

More:Nuclear waste from Tennessee filling new disposal area at repository near Carlsbad

The facility was recently planned by the DOE to increase production of plutonium pits, used as the triggers for nuclear bombs, as part of efforts to modernize the U.S.’ weapons arsenal.

Kenney said space should be saved at WIPP for New Mexico waste, as the state hosts the repository and he said should receive the most benefit. He said agreements between the DOE and the State of Idaho to prioritize waste from Idaho National Laboratory and another prioritizing waste from Savannah River Site in South Carolina – a facility also set to ramp up pit production – unfairly “leap-frogged” New Mexico for waste disposal.

More:Gov. Lujan Grisham demands President Biden block nuclear waste site in southeast New Mexico

The waste Kenney hoped to target in this provision, he said, was “legacy waste” held at Los Alamos for decades, posing environmental risks in the area and in need of permanent disposal at WIPP.

“We want to make sure we preserve enough space at WIPP for the entirety of New Mexico’s legacy waste,” Kenney said. “I’m significantly concerned that the notion of cap and cover and leaving things around Los Alamos while continuing to emplace waste at WIPP around the country will squeeze out and leave behind waste that should have been there from legacy issues.”

New Mexico aims to hold feds ‘accountable’ for nuclear waste disposal

Another significant change proposed by NMED in the permit would require a full accounting of waste planned to be disposed of at WIPP for the decade following the permit to justify keeping the facility open after the permit expires.

This would better hold the federal government accountable, Kenney said, for future planning at WIPP.

In past proposal for the upcoming permit renewal, the DOE removed a 2024 closure date, opting to leave WIPP’s lifetime open-ended as worked to its statutorily maximum capacity of 6.2 million cubic feet of nuclear waste specified by the federal Land Withdrawal Act (LWA).

The DOE estimated the site could be open until 2085 based on the potential future availability of nuclear waste.

That ambiguity was unacceptable, Kenney said in proposing the added condition.

“We’re not satisfied. That is a completely unacceptable answer. There’s a presumption that if they’re going to continue to operate the underground in New Mexico, they’re going to have to inventory all of the waste that could come to WIPP,” he said.

“They are going to be accountable to every state where they do business including ours. Full accounting, no switching numbers.”

He said he believed WIPP will stay open past the next 10-year permit term, but that the DOE must do a better job at planning future waste streams.

“We know there’s going to be a need for this kind of facility. I don’t think WIPP will reach the LWA limits in 10 years,” Kenney said. “We can’t blindly go down the path of not knowing what they’re doing in every state regarding clean up.”

Nuclear waste facility will ‘run out of volume one day’ state says

As for finding a location for a new nuclear repository to continue disposal of the nation’s nuclear waste, Kenney said he has not seen “anything substantive” from the DOE, but that he did not believe WIPP could be the only repository in the nation for an unlimited amount of time.

But to do that, or to increase WIPP’s capacity, would take an act of Congress, and Kenney said the State of New Mexico should be kept updated on such activities as it held the only deep geological repository for nuclear waste in the U.S.

“There’s an irony with it being called a pilot plant and extending it out to 2080,” Kenney said. “We believe there is a need for this kind of facility. We have legacy waste and we have pit production that has waste that needs a place to go.

“(WIPP) will run out of volume one day. Someone, somewhere in (Washington), D.C. needs to be thinking about where that repository will be.”

Should Congress choose to increase the capacity at WIPP beyond the LWA limit, NMED’s proposal would automatically revoke WIPP’s permit.

This would protect New Mexico, Kenney said, from the being the sole resting place for U.S. nuclear waste.

“That’s a deal breaker for us,” he said. “We’re reclaiming our authority to not let the federal government pull the rug out from under New Mexicans.”

Ricardo Maestas, WIPP program manager at NMED’s Hazardous Waste Bureau also pointed out that the WIPP facility’s proximity to nearby oil and gas operations in the growing Permian Basin region, was so far unaddressed in the permit, and the state should be kept update on fossil fuel operations as they grow around the site.  https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/2022/12/10/new-mexico-proposes-tougher-rules-for-nuclear-waste-site-near-carlsbad/69711594007/

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December 12, 2022 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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