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State of New Mexico demands feds investigate WIPP, federal nuclear programs via Carlsbad Current-Argus

Adrian Hedden

Stronger oversight of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant could be coming as the federal government was called on by New Mexico officials and members of Congress to address alleged problems with the U.S. Department of Energy’s environmental cleanup operations.

New Mexico Secretary of the Environment James Kenney expressed concerns for operations at WIPP in a letter to the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), calling for the federal office to increase its oversight of the nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad.

Low-level transuranic (TRU) waste from around the country is disposed of at WIPP via burial in an underground salt deposit about 2,000 feet underground.

It is owned and operated by the DOE and its Office of Environmental Management (EM) but is permitted and regulated by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) headed by Kenney.

In his Dec. 22 letter to the GAO, Kenney said the Office should review nuclear programs in New Mexico, including the prioritization of nuclear waste shipments to WIPP from facilities outside New Mexico.

He said first priority should be given to waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in northern New Mexico as the DOE intends to increase the production of plutonium pits.

“The WIPP is subject to an NMED operating permit and must adhere to the requirements of the permit in order to remain operable in New Mexico and in service to the nation,” Kenney wrote. “Yet, the DOE EM has entered into legally binding settlement agreements with states to prioritize waste shipments to WIPP at the expense of shipments from other states, including New Mexico.

Before the DOE entered into such agreements, as it had with the State of Idaho for cleanup at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in 1995, Kenney said the agency should have first engaged with New Mexico stakeholders he said would bear the impacts of moving out-of-state nuclear waste into their state.

Before the DOE entered into such agreements, as it had with the State of Idaho for cleanup at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in 1995, Kenney said the agency should have first engaged with New Mexico stakeholders he said would bear the impacts of moving out-of-state nuclear waste into their state.

[…]

Before the DOE entered into such agreements, as it had with the State of Idaho for cleanup at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in 1995, Kenney said the agency should have first engaged with New Mexico stakeholders he said would bear the impacts of moving out-of-state nuclear waste into their state.

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