Now Reading
New Mexico demands feds investigate federal nuclear programs

New Mexico demands feds investigate federal nuclear programs

CARLSBAD (NM) A stronger oversight of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is possible as members of Congress and officials from New Mexico called on the federal government to address alleged problems in the U.S. Department of Energy’s environmental cleanup operations.

James Kenney, New Mexico Environment, expressed concern about operations at WIPPSend a letterTo the federal Government Accountability Office. requesting that the office increase its oversight of the radioactive waste repository near Carlsbad.reported.

Low-level transuranic (TRU), wastes from around the country are disposed of at WIPP through burial in a salt deposits about 2,000ft underground.

It is owned and operated jointly by Energy Department, its Office of Environmental Management, and is authorized and regulated under the New Mexico Environment Department.

Kenney wrote Dec. 22 that the Government Accountability Office should review New Mexico’s nuclear programs, including prioritizing nuclear waste shipments from facilities outside New Mexico to WIPP.

Kenny said that waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory (northern New Mexico) should be given priority. There, the DOE intends increase production of the plutonium-rich pits used for nuclear weapons. He mentioned that DOE has entered into legally binding agreements with certain states to prioritize waste shipment at the expense of those from New Mexico.

He stated that this is problematic both for the cleanup of legacy waste at LANL or new waste from pit manufacturing at LANL.

Kenney stated that DOE should have engaged New Mexico stakeholders prior to entering into such agreements with Idaho, as it did with Idaho in 1995 for cleanup at Idaho National Laboratory.

The Idaho agreement allowed for the shipment of nuclear waste leftover from the Cold War that was headed to WIPP. The DOEs Carlsbad Field Office Approved 2,237 drums of TRU waste for shipment earlier this year accounting for about six shipments a week through February 2022.

According to records, WIPP accepted on average five shipments per week in 2021. Officials also reported that 30 shipments were sent from Los Alamos to WIPP in 2021.

“The practice of DOE EM 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.

Responding to the DOE’s email, officials stated that WIPP prioritizes shipments based upon their availability and certification under federal Land Withdrawal Act.

The statement said that DOE will continue its transparency efforts and encourage community engagement at all public events, including those hosted in Carlsbad Field Office.

Kenney also expressed concern about DOE officials allegedly trying to expand the types accepted at WIPP.

Kenney stated that a recent DOE proposal sought to redefine high level waste to take into account radiation level. This is in contrast to the current method which considers where the waste was produced. Kenney said this could lead to more waste going to WIPP.

Kenney also raised concerns about a DOE-proposed dilute & dispose program. This would see high level plutonium being processed to lower its radioactivity in order to meet WIPP requirements.

See Also

The proposal would see upto 34 tons of plutonium from South Carolina’s DOEs Savannah River Site and northern Texas’ Pantex Plant processed and prepared to be disposed at WIPP.

Under the DOEs preferred method, Pantex waste would be sent to Los Alamos to prepare, then to Savanna for dilution, before being returned to WIPP to be disposed of.

Before shipment to WIPP, the Savannah River’s plutonium waste would be broken down.

Kenneys letter was in response to a Dec. 2 letter from the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce calling for the GAO to hold a program-wide review of extreme management challenges at DOE’s Office of Environmental Management.

The office was added in 2017 to the GAOs High Risk List and remained there until the date of the letter.

In their letter, committee members raised concerns about program management and safety costs.

The congressional letter requested that GAO be able to review the major management problems at EM, which could impact its ability to reduce its environmental liabilities, and make progress in longstanding high-risk areas. This is to assist us in our oversight of EMs cleanup activities.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.