By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Watchdogs on Wednesday renewed their call for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state environmental regulators to take a stand against the federal government as it looks to extend and expand operations at the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.
They suggested that the state over the years has rubber-stamped decisions related to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and needs to assert its authority as other states have in holding the U.S. Energy Department accountable for cleaning up contamination and dealing with radioactive waste.
In an application for a 10-year permit renewal, the Energy Department has proposed removing 2024 as the date when closure and decommissioning would begin. The date has been included in every permit since the first in 1999. The Southwest Research and Information Center, residents and former regulators say allowing the change would mark another step toward New Mexico becoming a permanent dumping ground for the nation’s waste.
State environment officials said they are considering an extension of that temporary approval and are reviewing the permit application to ensure it’s technically complete before a draft permit is released and a public comment period is initiated.
The repository is at the center of a multibillion-dollar effort to clean up waste from decades of U.S. nuclear research and bomb-making. Tons of waste have been stashed for more than 20 years deep in the salt caverns of the New Mexico site. The idea is that the shifting salt will eventually entomb the radioactive tools, clothing, gloves and other debris that make up the waste.
Chandler suggested that New Mexico take that into consideration as part of the permit and include a provision to prioritize cleaning up the contamination at Los Alamos, which played a key role in the once-secret Manhattan Project during World War II and is now in line to restart production of the triggers used in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.