A state regulator is asking for a government watchdog’s assistance to investigate his concerns about federal agencies managing nuclear waste in New Mexico. This is in the hope that it will lead to greater congressional oversight.
James Kenney, the State Environment Secretary, wrote to the Government Accountability Office asking it to investigate how the U.S. Department of Energy manages the nuclear waste in the country, including at the underground storage facility in Southern New Mexico, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
His concerns were voiced in the December letterWIPP has taken significantly more shipments to Idaho from Los Alamos National Laboratory than to Idaho. The Energy Department also revised its guidelines to allow for other types of material to go to WIPP than originally intended.
WIPP was established in 1999 to store transuranic waste. It is mainly contaminated gloves, clothing and equipment. Federal waste managers are looking at WIPP to dispose of diluted plutonium.
Kenney wrote the following letter in response to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Write to the GAO Dec. 2It will be asked to review the Energy Departments Environmental Management branch in order to assess whether it is unable to reduce its environmental liabilities.
Kenney said Monday that he wanted the GAO to be aware of New Mexico’s specific problems in order to encourage Congress to get involved more.
Kenney stated that New Mexico’s problems are national issues. We want Congress to be able to execute its effective oversight since DOE facilities in New Mexico have additional oversight.
Kenney stated that he is troubled by the incoordination between federal agencies and Kenney.
The agency reached an agreement with Idaho in 2019 to ensure that 55 percent of waste going to WIPP comes from that state. Kenney claimed that he only learned of the agreement 24 hours before it was released to the media.
Kenney stated that I, as secretary of the Environment Department need to be fully informed about the DOE’s plans to send WIPP information before they speak to any other states about possible WIPP items.
Kenney objected against the arrangement and stated that New Mexico and the rest of the WIPPs capacity must be considered.
Kenney said that federal officials have also suggested that a high-level liquid waste be reclassified as a solid waste to meet WIPP permit regulations.
In an email, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department stated that the agency takes seriously its responsibility to safely clean up transuranic waste at its source sites and dispose of it promptly.
According to the statement, shipment priority is determined based on the availability of certified waste that meets the strict acceptance criteria of WIPPs.
The spokeswoman stated that DOE will continue to work towards transparency and encourage community participation at all public meetings, even those hosted by DOE entities in New Mexico.
Activists have complained that the agency has not been open about plans to ship plutonium through Santa Fe.
The agency issued a December notice of intent to initiate the process of an environmental impact statement. This was an early step in the diluting of and disposing of plutonium leftover from the Cold War.
The notice suggests that the plutonium could be down-blended to reduce radioactivity so that the waste can be accepted at WIPP.
Opponents are concerned that 26 metric tons worth of plutonium bomb cores from the Pantex Plant in Amarillo (Texas) would be sent to Los Alamos Lab, where it would become an oxide powder.
The powder would then be shipped to the Savannah River Site, South Carolina, where it would further be diluted before being returned to New Mexico for disposal at WIPP.
This would mean that a hazardous substance, other than transuranic waste, would be transported twice by N.M. 599 or U.S.84/285.
Kenney mentioned the dilute-anddispose project within the letter.
Monday was Monday’s focus for the Energy Department to engage with the public more, especially on contentious topics. He was also concerned about modified plutonium being sent to WIPP.
The letter mentions that the state sued the Energy Department last January for failing to properly clean up legacy lab waste from before 1999.
The lawsuit seeks the dissolution of the 2016 agreement between federal government and state, known as a consent or order for cleaning up old waste. It argues that it is too lax.
According to agency data, the lab sent 32 shipments last year of legacy waste to WIPP, and 56 shipments with newer waste.
Kenney says it should be removing legacy waste faster and be more thorough with the overall cleanup. Kenney stated that having old waste in containers or buried in ground can pose additional hazards.
Kenney stated that federal waste managers should spend every dollar Congress has allocated for cleanup and have nothing left at the end of each year. This is how you can determine if an agency is doing all they can.
He advised that you use your budget if you have it.