Public Hearing on Proposed WIPP Expansion Happening All Week


Monday, May 17th, begins a five-day virtual public hearing by the New Mexico Environment Department’s Hazardous Waste Bureau on the Permit Modification Request for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a dump for plutonium-contaminated waste from nuclear weapons. The permittees, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the WIPP operators, present their request as a new ventilation shaft “to restore a crippled ventilation system” (WIPP was forced to close in 2014 for three years after a radiation release). Opponents to the new permit claim that the four original shafts represent adequate ventilation and that this request is a violation of the DOE’s commitment to close WIPP by 2024, essentially a buy in to its ultimate expansion.

In violation of the permitting process, the DOE began construction of the ventilation shaft in 2020 before the Hazardous Waste Bureau implemented the public comment period. After public outcry, DOE terminated construction and this week’s hearing brings the draft permit’s required public process into compliance. The hearing officer will present his recommendation on the permit to the NMED Secretary, James Kinney, who will make the decision whether to grant the permit.

 According to Dan Hancock of Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC), a longtime critic of WIPP, it makes no sense to spend three years building a shaft and then immediately close the facility. Obviously, the DOE is planning to operate WIPP well beyond 2024 deadline but is not planning to change the closing date. Hancock believes the DOE is misrepresenting the purpose of this permit. Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety points out that there is a proposal to ship 50 metric tons of plutonium pit waste from the Pantex Facility in Texas to LANL for processing and then for further processing to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina before shipment to WIPP, which would demand an expansion.

The five-day hearing is before Judge Gregory Chakalian beginning at noon each day and running until 9 pm, with a two-hour break from 4 to 6 pm. There are eight participants who will present testimony and witnesses: NMED; DOE; SRIC; George Anastas; CCNS; Deborah Reed (in consultation with CCNS); Nuclear Watch New Mexico; and Steve Zappe.

The public is invited to participate in the zoom meeting during the public comment periods: Monday between 6 and 7 p.m. and on subsequent days between noon and I pm and 6 and 7 pm.

Each person can make oral comments only once during the five-day hearing and they are limited to five minutes. You can sign-up to give comments using the chat function on Zoom. You will be called on to speak in the order in which people signed up. If too many people sign up for the one-hour session, they will be called first in the next public comment session. 

This information is found on p. 3 of the NMED Public Notice at:—scroll down to March 10, 2021 entry and March 18, 2021 Hearing Public Notice.

The Zoom hearing may be joined at this link:

Meeting ID: 917 2894 5523
Passcode: 050223

To join by telephone:

For higher quality, dial a number based on your current location.

Dial: US: 1-669-900-6833 or 1-253-215-8782 or 1-346-248-7799 or 1-929-436-2866 or 1-301-715-8592 or 1-312-626-6799

Meeting ID: 917 2894 5523
Passcode: 050223

There is no restriction on the number of written comments you can submit to the Hearing Clerk at

You can find more information about the DOE’s expansion plans, key issues, and how to participate in the public hearing at the Stop Forever WIPP:, and Facebook page at, along with sample public comments in both English and Spanish.

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