Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz hosted a town hall meeting in Carlsbad last night to talk about recovery efforts at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. It's the nation's only underground nuclear waste storage facility, just 26 miles east of the town. WIPP has remained closed since the radiation leak in mid-February, and the cause of the leak remains unclear.
Secretary Moniz promised the crowd that WIPP will re-open, and members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation talked about their efforts to get WIPP the funds it needs to operate safely.
Sen. Martin Heinrich said those funds should not be discretionary; they should be guaranteed every year. "It is the maintenance piece that I think we need the most focus on because attention in Washington too often is driven by crisis," he said. "And for a project like WIPP, that has to last as long as WIPP has to last, we need every year to be able to focus on what it needs."
The House and Senate are considering more than $100 million for recovery efforts, and $200 million-plus for continued operations. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn also pointed out that an agreement to give the state $20 million per year for upkeep on the roads used in and out of WIPP expired two years ago.
One audience member said WIPP is a failure and should not be re-opened, but by and large the audience’s primary concern was restoring the plant and the hundreds of jobs associated with it.
Eddy County Commissioner Susan Crockett said the last few months have been difficult because the Department of Energy has not been forthcoming with information. "Frustrations in the community are high," she said. "The workers at WIPP are frustrated. The community is frustrated. We’re all frustrated with the slow pace of the information we’re receiving and the slow pace of the recovery effort."
Secretary Moniz has suggested it might take another 12 to 18 months before WIPP is back on its feet.
See video from last night's WIPP town hall.