The New Mexico Environment Department is taking a cautious approach to a proposal to expand the role of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico.
That’s as it should be, because something as significant as bringing 3.1 million gallons of radioactive waste to the underground repository near Carlsbad shouldn’t be done lightly – even if it seems like a reasonable move for a nation in denial about its growing nuclear waste storage problem.
The Department of Energy has asked the state to fast track a modification to WIPP’s state permit to allow waste there that is now prohibited. WIPP was built to store DOE nuclear weapons waste.
Instead of simply saying yes or no, the department opted to view the request as a major change to the permit, warranting a thorough review and public hearings.
The waste would come from the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington, where above-ground tanks containing waste from plutonium manufacturing reportedly are leaking. The DOE says that waste meets WIPP criteria, but the Environment Department says modifications made in 2004 to WIPP’s permit prevent it.
Storage of U.S. nuclear waste has become a serious safety issue. Thanks to lobbying efforts of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the $15 billion Yucca Mountain option in his state was taken off the table. Leaders in southeastern New Mexico welcome more work for WIPP and the jobs the plant offers.
When WIPP was built, promises were made to New Mexicans that its mission would be limited, so any expansion of its mission should be thoroughly aired with ample input from the public.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.