(August 21, 1998) On May 13, the Department of Energy announced with great fanfare to the American nation (and to the world) that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) would open on June 19 as the world's first nuclear waste repository. That date has come and gone but the WIPP's opening is still months or perhaps years away.
(496.4900) SRIC - Once again, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP, located in Carlsbad, New Mexico) is delayed. This time it's an indefinite delay, meaning to say that there is no longer a scheduled opening date. In a lawsuit against WIPP, the judge changed the scheduling order to one in which no set dates are given for further action on a motion to prevent WIPP from opening until the state of New Mexico issues an operating permit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). However, the DOE cannot ship any wastes to WIPP until the judge rules on that pending motion.
In another legal action on July 17, designed to further substantially delay WIPP's opening, the state of New Mexico and citizens' groups are suing to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval for WIPP, issued in May.
The DOE has focused on its multi-million-dollar public relations efforts, rather than addressing the fundamental technical and legal problems with the WIPP. Ongoing citizens' opposition and litigation will continue to delay WIPP's opening, which was first scheduled more than a decade ago.
The DOE's May 13 announcement was coupled with the certification by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that WIPP complied with nuclear waste disposal regulations (See WISE NC 492.4880: U.S.: Waste Isolation Pilot Plant OK'd by EPA). The EPA's certification is flawed and is being challenged in the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals by New Mexico Attorney General (NMAG) Tom Udall, the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC), the Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), and the Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD). If successful, that litigation would delay WIPP's opening for at least a few years while the EPA conducts a new certification process which would include public comments.
In the meantime, the WIPP's opening is delayed by a lawsuit originally filed in October 1991. That lawsuit was filed with the District Court in Washington, D.C., by the NMAG and joined by the SRIC, the CCNS, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Because legal claims in that lawsuit have still not been resolved, the plaintiffs filed a new preliminary injunction motion on June 9.
A basic claim in the lawsuit and in the June 9 motion is that the WIPP cannot open until the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issues an operating permit for the facility under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The WIPP is covered by the RCRA because it is to dispose of mixed hazardous and radioactive wastes. While the EPA certification covers the WIPP's predicted performance after all the radioactive waste is in place and the repository is decommissioned, the state permit is the only health and safety regulation of the facility during its proposed 35-year operation.
Rather than filing its response brief to the legal motion, the DOE has asked for delays in the court schedule, while agreeing to delay any shipments of waste to the WIPP until the judge rules on the motion. Meanwhile, the DOE is pressuring the NMED to hurry the permitting process (a draft permit was issued for 90 days of public comment on May 15) and is trying to gain the NMED's support for some shipments to the WIPP from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico. The SRIC has informed the NMED that it has neither the technical basis (because of the significant flaws in how LANL has handled the wastes) nor the legal authority (until it issues the RCRA permit) to grant the DOE's requests.
In addition to the litigation against the DOE and the EPA, the SRIC and other citizens' groups would be actively involved in the NMED permitting process as it continues into the spring of 1999.
Citizens are not just sitting back watching. On July 25, people in Colorado and New Mexico held various demonstrations and other activities in several communities in those two states. "Mark the WIPP Route Day" has promoted awareness of the dangers of nuclear waste shipments designated for the WIPP and encouraged people to oppose the WIPP's opening.
Source: Shundahai E-Newa, Vol #7, August 1998
Contact: SWNA Action Committee, 10011 Hickory Crossing, Dallas, TX 15243, USA
Tel: +1-214-2351467; Fax: +1-214-1831956