Morning Briefing - April 29, 2020
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April 29, 2020

Advocacy Group Goes to Court to Fight Sinking of New Shaft at WIPP

By ExchangeMonitor

A New Mexico advocacy organization is asking the state Court of Appeals to block last week’s temporary state approval for the U.S. Department of Energy to sink a new underground shaft at the Waste isolation Pilot Plant.

The Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) filed its motion with the court Friday. That same day, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) granted DOE and WIPP management contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership a temporary modification to their existing state hazardous waste permit that allows construction of the shaft to go ahead.

The temporary authorization by NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney is for 180 days, and says if the permanent permit change requested last August is ultimately rejected then DOE must “reverse all construction activities associated with this request.”

Last August WIPP management announced a $75 million award for a subcontractor, Harrison Western-Shaft Sinkers Joint Venture, to build a new underground utility shaft that would serve a variety of purposes, including providing a new access point for people and equipment into the salt mine.

The Southwest Research and Information Center seeks a temporary stay of the state authorization. In a 27-page brief, SRIC argued that construction of the shaft will lead to violation of the legal size and timeline for operations, as established in federal law and a 1981 federal agreement with the state.

The legal agreements with the state call for a 25-year waste emplacement period for WIPP, which started receiving waste in 1999, which translates into a 2024 halt of waste emplacement, SRIC says.

The Energy Department has filed a 10-year plan for WIPP with the state that would formally lift the current date for cessation of operations.

It makes no sense to launch such a large capital project to be used for such a short time, the advocacy group says.