The Environmental Protection Agency will hold two “stakeholder roundtables” Wednesday in Albuquerque to take public comments on an application that is key to the reopening of a southeastern New Mexico nuclear waste repository.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant – a deep geologic repository outside Carlsbad recovering from a radiation release last year – has applied to the EPA for certification it needs to operate, a process required every five years since WIPP opened in 1999.
The EPA and WIPP are in uncharted waters. This is the first time WIPP has applied for recertification since a drum of nuclear waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured underground on Feb. 14, 2014, contaminating many areas of the facility. That was after an unrelated truck fire underground shut WIPP down just nine days earlier.
The Department of Energy submitted its application six weeks after the radiation leak, which contaminated nearly two dozen workers with low levels of plutonium and americium. The application did not address the radiation release, and the EPA has spent the past six months seeking answers to highly technical questions.
“EPA, to their credit, has taken the formal position that the radiation leak does apply,” said Don Hancock of Albuquerque’s Southwest Research and Information Center, a WIPP watchdog group. “EPA needs more information about the changes DOE needs to make in the repository as part of the recertification.”
Top DOE officials have said WIPP could reopen in a limited way by March 2016. The cleanup is expected to cost half a billion dollars.