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Western governors: States not consulted on nuclear waste

Posted: 5:06 PM, Oct 04, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-04 19:06:27-04
US to shut down Idaho nuclear waste processing project

(AP) — Western governors are disappointed that the U.S. Department of Energy didn't consult their states' nuclear waste experts before releasing a five-year plan for a nuclear waste facility in New Mexico, the governors say.

The Western Governors' Association in a Sept. 30 letter to the Energy Department said the plan released in August for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant could have benefited with contributions from the states concerning transportation and safety.

The underground repository near Carlsbad, New Mexico, typically referred to as WIPP, takes in plutonium-contaminated clothing, tools and other material generated at 22 sites across the nation involved in Cold War-era nuclear research and bomb-making.

Among those sites are the Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge Site in Tennessee, Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and the Hanford site in Washington state.

"Western Governors have a vested interest in the safety and functionality of WIPP, as its internal practices and regional shipping procedures affect the health and safety of citizens across the West," states the letter signed by Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum.

The letter is addressed to Kirk Lachman, acting manager at the Energy Department's Carlsbad Field Office. Energy Department spokesmen Donavan Mager and James Mason, who are both based at the office, didn't immediately return calls from The Associated Press on Friday.

The Western Governors' Association in 1989 created a Technical Advisory Group of nuclear waste and transportation experts that the governors said was left out of the latest Energy Department planning process for the repository.

"Their extensive experience with WIPP's operations would have been a valuable contribution to DOE's consideration of future plans and activities at WIPP," the governors said.

Western governors in the letter also said discussion in the plan devoted to a 2014 accident at the facility that shut down shipments for nearly three years is minimal and should contain lessons learned and actions to avoid future radiation releases. The 2014 radiation release was the result of waste being inappropriately packaged at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory — the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

The repository has been receiving waste since 1999. The waste is entombed in disposal rooms carved out of an ancient salt formation about half a mile (0.8 kilometers) down.

The governors wrote that the letter itself was being submitted through the public notice and comment process.

That "process is an insufficient channel for state-federal communication on federal actions that may affect state authority or administrative activity," the governors said.

By KEITH RIDLER Associated Press