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Nuclear Waste Partnership, the management and operating contractor at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Energy, is proposing to ship transuranic waste currently located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists, located in western Andrews County, Texas.
The Department has committed to the state of New Mexico to removing 3,706 cubic meters of TRU waste from LANL by June 30.
Lab spokesman Matt Nerzig said the campaign was 80 percent complete when WIPP operations were suspended.
The waste will be moved to WIPP for final disposal once the site reopens. Any shipments of LANL transuranic waste to a temporary storage site are contingent upon the completion of an appropriate National Environmental Policy Act analysis.
Nerzig said the goal is to begin shipments after the completion of the NEPA analysis with a target date of April 1.
“We initially estimate that as many as 140 shipments of TRU waste from LANL would be sent to WCS,” said Nerzig, who added that the contract is contingent the completion of an appropriate analysis of the potential environmental impacts pursuant to the NEPA Act.
“The LANL waste will be staged so that it can be disposed of as soon as WIPP resumes waste receipt operations,” said J.R. Stroble, DOE’s Director of the National Transuranic Program. “These shipments will be managed just like other WIPP shipments. The Department will continue to evaluate potential alternatives for other DOE transuranic waste generating sites until WIPP is fully operational.”
“While most of the waste has already been disposed at WIPP, this agreement with WCS will allow us to complete our commitment to the state and the people of New Mexico,” said Farok Sharif, NWP’s National Transuranic Program manager.
NWP has signed a contract with WCS to temporarily stage transuranic waste, which consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris, soil and other items contaminated with small amounts of radioactive elements, mostly plutonium. Each of these man-made elements has an atomic number greater than uranium.
Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) also issued the following statement on the situation.
“Removing waste from the mesa in Los Alamos before fire season is critical to ensure safety in the greater Los Alamos community.
“The state’s June 2014 deadline was firm and non-negotiable, as I made clear in repeated conversations with Energy Secretary (Ernest) Moniz since the Feb. 14 accident at WIPP. I’m pleased we have a temporary solution that will ensure there will not be any significant disruption in cleanup efforts.
“By law, WIPP is the only permanent repository for TRU waste from Los Alamos and other nuclear weapons facilities, and I look forward to continued progress in the recovery efforts. In the meantime, I will be pressing DOE for details about its transportation plan, including the impact on roads, traffic and security through Southeast New Mexico. DOE needs to ensure the resources are in place for safe transportation and security.”
DOE and NWP will continue working closely with the states of New Mexico and
Earlier this week, new air sampling data from southeastern New Mexico’s troubled nuclear waste dump indicates there has been another small radiation release.
Department of Energy officials say a monitoring station picked up elevated radiation readings around the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad on March 11. That’s nearly a month after a Valentine’s Day leak contaminated 17 workers and shut the only repository for toxic waste from the nation’s nuclear bomb-building program.
Engineers say they believe the contamination is from previous deposits on the inner surface of exhaust ductwork.
Officials say occasional low-level releases are anticipated, but they should be well within safe limits.