The recent New Mexico Environment Department approval of a WIPP permit modification to change how it counts the WIPP Volume of Record has become somewhat of a political football for anti-nuclear organizations and politicians that oppose WIPP, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories. Here are the facts:
1. WIPP was designated by the Land Withdrawal Act of 1992 as a repository for disposal of 6.2 million cubic feet of defense transuranic waste (DTRUW). It did not qualify the etiology of that waste, only that it be DTRUW meeting that definition.
2. The capacity limit was based on an inventory estimated in a 1980 EIS, and only included DTRUW buried in Idaho at that time and estimated waste production rates at the Rocky Flats Site through 2002. The 1980 EIS inventory did not include waste from future clean-up at other DOE facilities – Hanford, Oak Ridge, Savannah River, Los Alamos, etc.
3. WIPP has two disposal regulators; EPA regulates radiologic constituents and the Congressional limit of 6.2 million cubic feet. The state only regulates hazardous constituents. Each panel in WIPP is permitted, like a city dump, with a designated volume. There are no state volume limits or number of permitted disposal units it can permit.
4. WIPP began using over-packs to meet DOT and NRC requirements and restrictions for weight, safety and radiation levels in transportation casks from the very first shipment. DOT and NRC transportation limits have nothing to do with the waste volumes in the shipments to be counted against the volume limit for WIPP.
5. Over-packs – mostly air — were initially counted as the actual volume of waste instead of the inner over-packed containers within them because everyone believed WIPP had a capacity in excess of known inventories.
6. The reality is that there is more DTRUW in the weapons complex that has since been discovered, and it exceeds the 6.2 million cubic feet capacity if the air in the over-packs is counted.
7. WIPP applied for a Class 3 permit modification to NMED to change the counting for the volume of record based on the inner containers of Transuranic Waste, NOT the overpack container volume.
8. A Class 3 permit modification is the most rigorous class, requires technical evaluation by NMED expert staff, has several public hearings and one by an independent hearing officer who renders a decision based on the evidence. The hearing officer recommended approving the new permit, and the NMED secretary agreed.
9. The permit modification is simple and straightforward. It says to count the inner container volume of over-packed containers for the Congressional purpose of limiting DTRUW and count the Hazardous Waste Unit volume – the outer container volume – for the purpose of state control over each permitted unit. Thus, both counts serve their individual purposes.
10. The idea that this decision was politically motivated disrespects technical staff at NMED, the hearing officer and the independence of the NMED system.
11. Those who claim foul have ulterior motives. They refuse to understand the purpose for the change. It is remarkable anyone would prefer DTRUW to remain in the biosphere rather than putting it away permanently in WIPP.
12. WIPP is the only permitted deep-geologic repository in the U.S established to clean up the weapons complex.
13. Cleanup of the weapons complex is the third largest liability of our country, right behind the national debt and social security/Medicare. WIPP is essential for clean-up.
14. A major legacy of Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici is WIPP. They realized the need for a national repository to clean up America’s Cold War mess, including at our own Sandia and Los Alamos labs.
15. I ask you, who in good conscience could deny the full and complete volume authorized by Congress at WIPP? To not use WIPP to its fullest would be a tragedy.