Editorial: NM right to ask for accounting of nuclear waste - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: NM right to ask for accounting of nuclear waste

“I think there’s this mentality that New Mexico can just be the forever home for all the nation’s waste. It’s an exploitative mentality regarding our state.”

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces

It is more than fair, when you house a radioactive waste facility like the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, to ask how much waste from the nation’s nuclear weapons program still needs a home.

Especially when the nation keeps making more.

In the proposed permit for the federal government to continue storing nuclear waste at WIPP in southeastern New Mexico, the New Mexico Environment Department is seeking a full accounting from the U.S. Energy Department of materials still needing to be cleaned up and shipped to WIPP from laboratories and defense-related sites around the country. It also suggests developing another storage site (Hint: How about the $13.5 billion already spent on Yucca Mountain?). And it puts Congress — the same Congress that just approved spending more to make key plutonium components for the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which will also make more radioactive waste — on notice that if lawmakers expand the type of waste accepted at WIPP, the permit will be revoked.

WIPP currently takes transuranic waste from the weapons program contaminated with radioactive elements heavier than uranium — lab coats, rubber gloves, tools and other contaminated debris.

State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces and head of the Legislature’s radioactive and hazardous materials committee, points out our state has been left to deal with contamination from uranium mining, oil and gas development and the use of toxic firefighting chemicals known as PFAS at Air Force bases. With the proposed permit “it’s good to see our state setting boundaries.”

New Mexico has a long history when it comes to dealing with nuclear weapons and radioactive waste — from the Trinity site at White Sands to Urenco in Eunice, Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Holtec storage project with Hobbs and Carlsbad.

We have smart, capable, highly trained individuals who are experts in these fields.

But they are only as good as the information they are provided, and they deserve a full accounting of what they will ultimately have to deal with.

As Steinborn implies, too often our state has been left to deal with the federal government’s mess (we would add a gold mine spill, an Air Force fuel leak and catastrophic prescribed burns to his list).

The permit is now in a 60-day comment period, and the DOE says it is eager to participate. Here’s hoping they are just as eager to be forthright with what they plan to send to the Land of Enchantment.

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.

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