House appropriators today matched President Barack Obama’s $220 million budget request for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant – then approved the addition of up to $120 million more – to help get the nuclear waste repository operating again.
The vote by the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee comes on the heels of a request for extra WIPP cleanup money that Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich – both New Mexico Democrats – made of Obama last week.
“We urge you to give consideration of the extra amounts needed to restore full operations at WIPP,” the senators wrote to the president.
The Department of Energy has been investigating what caused the lid of at least one drum to crack open at WIPP outside Carlsbad in February. Radiation leaked from the deep underground repository into the environment on Feb. 14 in quantities deemed unharmful to health. WIPP has been closed to shipments of legacy nuclear waste from sites around the country since early February. A set of drums from Los Alamos are the focus of the investigation.
Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee, said today that the additional $120 million the subcommittee approved as part of the 2015 energy and water spending bill would “cover costs to get the facility up and running again.” The Senate has not yet considered the 2015 spending bill for federal energy and water projects.
The budget approved by the subcommittee Tuesday allows the National Nuclear Security Administration to divert $120 million from NNSA’s pension fund to offset the looming WIPP expenditures. The appropriations bill does not include details about how the money would be spent.
Don Hancock of the Southwest Research Information Center told the Journal that the NNSA doesn’t know how much it will cost to reopen WIPP safely and questioned if the amount would be enough.
“They don’t know how much contamination there is and they don’t know what the cleanup standard is,” Hancock said, adding that the standard is unclear and unwritten in WIPP policies or law because the incident “was never supposed to happen.”