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Bill could fund WIPP, other energy projects

Almost half a billion dollars could be coming to the Waste Isolation Pilot as federal legislation advanced to the floor of the U.S. Senate, led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udal, D-NM, and intended to fund operations at U.S. Department of Energy sites and projects across the country.

Udall serves as senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which unanimously supported moving the bill to the Senate floor for a full vote.

The legislation provided federal funds for New Mexico’s national labs, environmental clean-up projects and tribal energy programs throughout the U.S., along with about $403 million for recovery operations and ongoing work at WIPP — an underground repository for transuranic waste near Carlsbad.

“This funding will help bolster New Mexico’s thriving science and technology economy — while providing the resources needed to ensure environmental clean-up and public safety,” Udall said.

“This bill invests in New Mexico’s state of the art national labs and the men and women doing cutting-edge work at them, and it supports the tech transfer initiatives that energize and diversify our economy.”

He also pointed to investments the bill would make in water projects throughout New Mexico, the day after New Mexico. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a consortium and memorandum of understanding between New Mexico State University and the New Mexico Environment Department to study how produced waste water from oil and gas operations could be treated and reused.

“The bill also invests in New Mexico’s most precious resource – water – to ensure a more sustainable future for our state,” Udall. “As the appropriations process moves forward, I will continue standing up for New Mexico and the first-rate technology that is being developed in our state.”

During a discussion on the bill ahead of the Committee’s approval, Udall voiced concerns about funding included for a “pilot program” to allow the DOE to fund facilities to temporarily store commercial spent nuclear fuel ahead of a the development of a permanent repository.

One such facility, proposed by Holtec International, could be built near Carlsbad and Hobbs, intending to hold up to 120,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel rods on the surface in a consolidated interim storage facility (CIS).

Another in Andrews, Texas proposed by Waste Control Specialists would augment an existing facility for low-level nuclear waste to hold about 40,000 metric tons of high-level waste.

Without a permanent repository in development, Udall cautioned such projects could become permanent despite their designs as temporary facilities.

“For many years, the chair and ranking member have used this bill to carry authorizing language that sets up a ‘pilot program’ for interim storage program for nuclear waste before a final repository is established,” Udall said.

“We have had debates and even votes on this and other matters dealing with how to handle commercial nuclear fuel that is stranded at power plants. I appreciate the chair and ranking member’s earnest desire to resolve this issue, but I continue to have very serious reservations with their approach.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said the bill was essential work towards essential projects throughout the U.S.

“This legislation supports a host of important national priorities, such as science and research, nuclear security, and critical infrastructure projects across the country,” he said.

“By advancing this measure through the process today, we are taking a significant step toward funding the government and strengthening our nation.”

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