The New Mexico Environment Department said Friday it was not ready to decide whether to change the way it measures the volume of transuranic waste disposed at the Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
The New Mexico agency also plans a more extensive “Class 3” review of the site permit modification, which requires more public input that the previously planned “Class 2” modification.
Environment Secretary Butch Tongate said in a letter to DOE and WIPP contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership the state would treat the pending change the facility’s hazardous waste facility permit as a “Class 3” modification, which provides for a public hearing.
In his letter to DOE Carlsbad Field Office Manager Todd Shrader and NWP President and Project Manager Bruce Covert, Tongate said volume measurement is both complex and of significant public concern, which “requires the more extensive procedures of Class 3.”
Class 3 is designed for major permit changes, said Scott Kovac, operations and research director for the nongovernmental advocacy organization Nuclear Watch New Mexico. Class 3 also allows for negotiations between DOE, NMED, and intervening parties on any issues which can be agreed to prior to the public hearing, Kovac said by email.
A Class 3 change could take a year, whereas a Class 2 update can take several months, Kovac added. Nuclear Watch New Mexico opposes the volume recalibration.
In January, DOE requested the empty space between drums inside a standard waste container no longer be counted as waste for measurement purposes at WIPP. The change would apply both to future waste emplacement and material already emplaced at the site.
The Energy Department and Nuclear Waste Partnership believe the modification would protect human health and the environment, a DOE spokesman said by email Monday. The department will continue to pursue the modification, although approval could take a few months longer, the spokesman said by phone.
State officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
The recalculation would delay the point at which the site will meet its waste limit under the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act. WIPP has to date filled 90,000 cubic meters of its 175,565-cubic-meter limit under the legislation. The change would reduce the current waste volume level to 60,000 cubic meters, or just a little more than a third of the limit, Kovac has said.