More delay for WIPP

30 September 1998

UNITED STATES The long-delayed Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a $1.8 billion repository for transuranic nuclear waste in salt beds 2150 feet below the desert floor near Carlsbad, New Mexico, has been delayed again.

WIPP is now unlikely to open before January at the earliest, and perhaps not until next summer, because of the New Mexico Department of Environment has withheld a permit.

The state agency says it is unable to ensure that 116 barrels of TRU waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, scheduled to be shipped to WIPP for disposal don’t include hazardous chemical waste.

Susan McMichael, director of the New Mexico Department of Environment, told a state legislative committee that her agency is not likely to issue a hazardous waste permit for the WIPP site until sometime between July and October 1999.

McMichael warned the US Department of Energy to wait until it gets a state permit before shipping any waste to the facility, or risk bringing on an even more significant delay in processing the permit application.

The US Department of Energy denies there is any chemical waste in the TRU shipment and is attempting to satisfy state demands that Los Alamos scientists prove it. James Owendoff, the DOE’s assistant secretary for environmental management, called the state’s action “a serious setback to cooperative efforts”.

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