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Activists Seek Public Hearing On WIPP Changes

Earlier this month, the New Mexico Environment Department gave the federal government the green light to ship “hot,” remote handled waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in a new type of container.  

Since 1999, transuranic waste from nuclear weapons manufacturing has been stored in salt caverns a half-mile below the surface of the earth at WIPP in southern New Mexico.

WIPP already accepts hot, remote handled waste—waste so radioactive it must be specially shielded and handled by machines. But the new shielded containers will be small enough to be  “contact handled”—that is, they’ll be unloaded and moved by workers instead of machines.

Last week, the Albuquerque-based Southwest Research and Information Center appealed the decision in the New Mexico Court of Appeals, saying the state made its decision without holding a public hearing.

The request for new, smaller containers came from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is under increasing pressure to find places to store the nation’s nuclear waste.

Earlier this year, a decades-old plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada was terminated.  The federal government’s other requests include opening WIPP to commercial waste from power plants, storing mercury on the surface, and increasing the amount of surplus Plutonium stored at WIPP.