According to a report from the Carlsbad CurrentArgusAfter the head of New Mexico’s Environment Department (NMED), called upon the government, it is possible that more federal oversight will be given to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, (WIPP), located near Carlsbad in New Mexico.
James Kenney, Secretary of the Environment Department, wrote a letter asking the Government Accountability Office to improve oversight at the nuclear waste repository.
The WIPP is owned and managed by the Department of Energy, its Office of Environmental Management and its Office of Environmental Management. However the NMED permits and regulates the operation.
The WIPP was opened in March 1999 and is the nation’s only deep-geologic long-lived radioactive waste repository. An ancient salt formation, located 26 miles southeast from Carlsbad and at 2,150 feet below the ground, houses defense-generated transuranic (TRU) waste.
TRU waste is primarily made from the recycling of spent fuel or from the use of plutonium in nuclear weapons.
Kenneys concern in the letter to the GAO was the prioritization waste shipments to the WIPP.
Kelly stated that New Mexico, and specifically Los Alamos National Laboratory located in Northern New Mexico, should be given priority when it comes to space for storing their waste.
Kenney writes in his letter that DOE EM has entered into legally binding agreements with states to prioritize waste shipments for WIPP at the expense shipments from other States, including New Mexico.
Kenney adds that this is problematic both for the clean-up at Los Alamos National Labs of legacy waste and for the clean up of new waste from the Labs’ pit production.
Kenney stated that the DOE settlement agreements reached were made without first consulting New Mexico stakeholders. This was done by ignoring the very group that would bear the consequences of nuclear waste being moved out-of state into New Mexico.
Kenney cites this as an example of federal oversight that is needed. Kenney says the DOE EM practice of managing only waste shipments from WUPP in the U.S. without first discussing with NM stakeholders – NMED as its regulator – now merits immediate congressional scrutiny.
The Department of Energy replied to the Carlsbad Current Argus via email. It stated that the WIPP prioritizes their shipments based upon their availability and certification under federal Land Withdrawal Act.
The Department of Energy (DOE), understands its responsibility for safely cleaning up TRU waste generators in support of the national defense mission. Prioritization of shipment is based upon the availability and acceptance criteria (WAC) for certified TRU waste.
The statement continued to state that the DOE will continue transparency efforts and strongly encourage community engagement.