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End of public comment period on nuke site draws criticism

September 21, 2018

FILE - This March 6, 2014 file photo shows the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository, near Carlsbad, N.M. The public comments period ended this week on a proposal to expand the amount of radioactive and hazardous waste allowed at the underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The ending of a public comment period has prompted concerns that the state of New Mexico is rushing the approval process regarding a proposal to expand the amount of radioactive and hazardous waste allowed at an underground nuclear waste repository.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports critics are leveling the accusations against the state Environment Department after a petition by 21 environmental groups to extend the public comment period to 90 days was rejected.

“This proposal affects all New Mexicans forever,” said Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center. “This should be done right from a health and safety perspective for present and future generations.”

The U.S. Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC, a private contractor that manages the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, submitted a request early this year to change the way radioactive waste at the site is measured.

The change could lead to a 30 percent increase in the amount of new waste allowed at the site.

In a letter Wednesday, four organizations — Southwest Research and Information Center, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping — asked the Environment Department to set a later date for the hearing and to hold testimony in Santa Fe.

Environmentalists said they expect the department to issue a notice in coming days of an October hearing in Carlsbad on the draft waste permit. That timeframe, they say, won’t allow adequate review of the document and involves a venue they argue will prevent many members of the public from attending.

State officials said they could not confirm that a hearing date had been set.

Katy Diffendorfer, a spokeswoman for the Environment Department, also said there was no plan to expedite the approval process for WIPP’s waste permit.

“Everything has been according to regulatory process,” she said.

The repository restarted operations in 2017 following a nearly three-year shutdown that resulted from a radiation release from an inappropriately packaged drum of waste that was shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.santafenewmexican.com

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