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Senators request additional $113M funding for WIPP cleanup

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ALBUQUERQUE — Members of the state’s congressional delegation are seeking an additional $113 million to help fund ongoing recovery efforts at the federal government’s troubled nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico.

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich outlined their request Tuesday in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has been closed since February, following a fire and then a radiological leak from a canister of waste shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Cleaning up WIPP and resuming full operations could take years. The cost has been estimated at more than $500 million.

The U.S. Department of Energy is finalizing a report on the cause of the radiation release. That’s expected before the end of the year.

“WIPP is the nation’s only deep geologic repository for transuranic nuclear weapons waste and an integral part of the environmental clean-up of Cold War programs at Department of Energy defense sites around the country,” the senators wrote in the letter. “We believe it is essential that WIPP have additional funding in FY15 to continue implementing the recovery plan, including all of the recommendations of the Accident Investigation Boards. Though the president’s original FY15 budget request for WIPP did not reflect the additional funding required to respond to the accidents, we very much appreciate your including additional funding in your subcommittee’s draft bill for FY15 to support of WIPP’s recovery.”

In June Udall worked to ensure the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill provided $323 million for WIPP, including $102 million for WIPP cleanup. The senators’ letter requests the appropriators’ “continued support for funding for the recovery of (WIPP) in the fiscal year 2015 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill or in any continuing resolution.” In total, the senators requested $334 million, including $5.5 million for safeguards and security, and highlighted that the additional funding was critical to recovery efforts.

The senators hosted U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at WIPP for an “all hands” employee meeting and surface tour of the site in August.