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Citizen board recommends DOE shed more light on WIPP waste storage

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By Tris DeRoma

A local citizens advisory board recommended to the Department of Energy Wednesday that it provide more information to the public on a proposed above-ground nuclear waste facility at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant at Carlsbad.
The recommendation was put forth by Northern New Mexico Citizen’s Advisory Board member Stephen Schmelling.  
“It is a fairly straightforward construction project and there is little reason to doubt, that if constructed to the proposed specifications, it would be capable of temporarily storing a large quantity TRU (transuranic) waste,” the recommendation said.
“However, the permit modification provides no information on the cost of the facility, or the expected benefits to be derived from either in terms of the more efficient operation of the WIPP facility, or the reduction in risk around the DOE complex from the more efficient operation of the WIPP facility, or the reduction in risk around the DOE complex from the more efficient operation of WIPP and the TRU waste disposal process.”
The board voted to direct the DOE to shed more light on how the proposed facility will benefit the region, how much the facility will cost and present these reasons before the public at a later date.
The next step will be for the Los Alamos Field Office of Environmental Management to present the recommendation to the DOE.
Though the board is looking for more details from the DOE, it generally approves of DOE’s plan to build a temporary waste facility.
“There won’t be a stoppage of work at WIPP,”  NNMCAB Chair Gerald Martinez Y Valencia said. “They will be continually storing the waste. It will also be good for jobs in the region, too. No one will be laid off because there is a delay.”
DOE proposed the facility to the New Mexico Environment Department in the wake of a barrel of nuclear waste shipped from LANL leaking in WIPP’s below-ground storage facility in February 2014.
The leak rendered WIPP’s underground  facility unusable for three years.
The facility has now reopened, but it’s still not fully operational.
The purpose behind the facility would be to create a temporary, above-ground “buffer” so the flow of waste coming from the DOE’s nuclear facilities wouldn’t be interrupted. The above-ground facilities are designed to hold about a year’s worth of waste.
Scott Kovac, of Nuclear Watch, wished the DOE didn’t propose the above ground facility in the first place, because it adds an extra step and delays in getting the dangerous waste into WIPP’s permanent below ground facility.
“They should just spend the money fixing up WIPP instead of these other things, I think they’d be farther along,” Kovac said.