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DOE proposes storing tons of mercury near WIPP site

The U.S. Department of Energy is eying two sites in Eddy County to store 10,000 metric tons of mercury (about 22 million pounds). A site in West Texas was DOE’s preferred storage spot, according to the Carlsbad Current-Argus. But now the federal agency is exploring two locations near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

Jody Knox, president of the Carlsbad Department of Development, said her board supports the proposal.

But environmental groups oppose the plan. Don Hancock with the Southwest Research and Information Center, said two federal laws prohibit this kind of storage.

"New Mexico is a dump site for nuclear weapons waste at WIPP. It's not supposed to be the nation's dumping ground for everything else," Hancock said.

A 2008 law banned the export of mercury and directed the DOE to have a facility ready to store excess mercury from commercial recyclers, gold mines and industrial plants. The deadline was January 2010, and Hancock said Congress should find a different way to deal with this issue.

"The majority of this mercury is in the hands of commercial enterprises now," he said. "They need to take some responsibility for it too."

A public meeting on the proposal will be held tonight in Carlsbad at the Skeen-Whitlock Building Auditorium, 4021 National Parks Highway with an open house from 4:30 to 5:30. Public comment will be heard from 5:30 to 8 p.m. A meeting on  June 28 in Albuquerque will be at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 1901 University Blvd. NE with an open house from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Public comment will be taken from 6 to 8:30 p.m.