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Energy secretary Moniz to visit N.M. next week

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By Associated Press

 

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s trip to New Mexico next week will include a visit to the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad.

Moniz will be in Santa Fe for a meeting Monday morning and then will travel to Carlsbad for a town hall focused on recovery efforts at the troubled Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Moniz will wrap up his trip Tuesday with a visit to the site, which will mark his first time there since a reaction sent radioactive particles into the air above the repository and contaminated 22 workers with low levels of radiation.

The Department of Energy facility is the nation’s only permanent repository for plutonium-contaminated gloves, tools and clothing from the federal government’s nuclear facilities. Shipments from sites across the country have been on hold now for nearly six months, indefinitely stalling efforts to clean up decades of Cold War-era waste.

While the department is aiming to resume limited operations as early as 2016, state officials say much work still needs to be done to ensure operations can continue safely.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said he’s encouraged by Moniz’s visit. Flynn and other elected officials had called for Moniz to visit months ago.

“There’s no substitute for looking people in the eye and listening to their concerns and answering their questions about the future of their jobs at the facility,” Flynn said Tuesday. “I really hope he’s going to spend some time here with the community and figure out what he needs to do, what the Department of Energy needs to do to make this facility successful once again.”

Flynn said he’s interested in hearing from Moniz how the department plans to improve its oversight of nuclear safety, mine safety and emergency management at the underground repository.