Commentary on the Radiation Leak at WIPP


@2014 by John Trever, Albuquerque Journal. Used by permission.
@2014 by John Trever, Albuquerque Journal. Used by permission.

The New Mexico congressional delegation issued a press release yesterday about the radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP). Here’s a quote from the release: “The lawmakers together reiterated the message that it is critical for the DOE to be as open and responsive to the Carlsbad community, where residents understandably are concerned about health and safety in the wake of the accident. Additionally, they pressed [Energy Secretary] Moniz for details about DOE’s plan to re-enter the facility and for assurances that workers, their families and the community will not be disrupted while the facility is closed.” 

Then they each made a brief statement. This is what Tom Udall had to say: “I also underscored the urgency with which we must have a plan to store waste from Los Alamos before the beginning of the fire season. The deadline to remove waste from the lab is not negotiable.”

The WIPP accident reveals there is no failsafe method to store nuclear waste. The fact that the congressional delegation continues to support the creation of more nuclear waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory cannot be justified. The White House released its FY 2015 budget this week that increases spending for “Total Weapons Activity” by 6.9 percent and its funding for the “Directed Stockpile Work” by 12.5 percent, which will sustain and increase bomb building in general, and the B61 Life Extensions Program at LANL, in particular. The congressional delegation is on board.

The law now limits WIPP to storing defense transuranic (plutonium-contaminated) waste and prohibits the transportation or disposal of high-level waste or spent nuclear fuel. Udall states that the deadline to remove waste from LANL is not negotiable. Where will the transuranic or “low level” waste—sludge, clothing, machinery, tools, etc.—that was generated during the Cold War and will continue to be generated as the Lab fulfills its “nuclear mission” be disposed when the salt beds at WIPP are contaminated with plutonium and americium? Where will the high level waste from Hanford that the DOE wants to ship to WIPP be disposed now that WIPP is contaminated with plutonium and americium? As Don Hancock pointed out in his La Jicarita article on March 5, opposition to the various proposals to accept high level waste at WIPP has been long and loud. While we don’t yet know what caused the radiation release, we do know that either the roof of the mine caved in or one of the containers exploded—the “low level” radiation stipulated by law as opposed to the “high level” radiation proposed by the DOE.

The request by the lawmakers that the DOE be “open and responsive” to the community regarding the accident is de rigueur for politicians. Based on the department’s track record in that regard, it’s laughable. The secrecy, lies, fraud, waste, retaliations, overspending, and unaccountability at LANL and other nuclear facilities overseen by the DOE have been revealed for years in the press and by courageous whistleblowers and activists. Now we have to rely on these same folks to make sure we get the real story about what happened at WIPP and what we’re going to make the DOE (and the Environmental Protection Agency and the New Mexico Environment Department) do about it.



  1. Nuclear Waste is the 800 pound gorilla that nobody, especially the nuclear Industry wants to discuss, because the answers will makes using Nuclear far too costly if cradle to grave environmental costs are factored into all new construction estimates!

    It is time that every Nuclear Energy discussion begin with what is going to happen to all the radioactive waste:

    1. How long will it to be stored?

    2. Where will we store it.

    3. Who will pay for storing it.

    4. What potential environmental problems could this waste cause?

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