Sunday, May 23, 2010

WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit Renewal Process

As of April 27, 2010 a two-month period began for public comment on renewal of the WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit, recently proposed and issued in draft form by HWB/NMED. When finalized, the renewed Permit will allow for lawful continuation by the WIPP site, for a period of ten years, of the acceptance and storage of mixed chemical and transuranic (TRU) wastes, resulting from the DOE's nuclear weapons program.

Documents relating to the renewal process may be found on NMED's public website. Among these documents is a copy of the proposed renewal Permit and a WIPP Fact Sheet describing the Permit history, as well as a summary of the points at which the proposed renewal Permit differs from the previous version. These differences are partly the result of Permittee requests, and partly owing to NMED's desire for consistency. According to NMED:

"The draft Permit includes several conditions that are newly imposed on WIPP, but have been included in other hazardous waste facility Permits issued by NMED."

1) "Community Relations Plan: The draft Permit directs the Permittees to establish and carry out a community relations plan to inform the nearby communities and members of the public of permit-related activities. In addition, the plan will give these entities a means to give feedback and input to the Permittees and will seek to minimize disputes and resolve differences between the Permittees and interested parties."

2) "Information Repository: The draft Permit requires the Permittees to establish an information repository (IR) containing specific documents concerning the issuance and operation of the Permit. The Department requires that the IR be located either as a virtual or electronic repository, at a physical location, or both. The Department considers an electronic IR available through the internet to be more readily accessible and therefore more utilized. The Department considers the requirement to include particular documents in an electronic IR to be easier to enforce because the Department can access an internet based repository at any time. The Department’s experience with physical IRs is that they are often incomplete and that they create a burden on third parties to ensure that documents are not removed or altered. The Department encourages the Permittees to collaborate with interested parties to determine an effective and reasonable IR. In any event, the Department maintains a physical copy of information in the IR in its Administrative Record."

3) "Waste minimization: The draft Permit requires a waste minimization program to
reduce the volume and toxicity of hazardous wastes generated at WIPP. The regulations at 40 CFR §264.73(b)(9) require an annual certification by the Permittees that they have in place a program to reduce the volume and toxicity of hazardous waste generated. In this section the Department has included specific program requirements to make the condition enforceable and protective. EPA is encouraging states to enforce the waste minimization requirements at 40 CFR §264.73(b)(9). These requirements were previously contained in Module VII. The Department requires that the waste minimization program be a forward looking document for planning purposes to integrate the waste minimization program into WIPP’s operating principles."

Of particular interest here is NMED's new requirement (2) for WIPP to establish an "information repository", in electronic and/or physical form, "containing specific documents concerning the issuance and operation of the Permit". This is similar to what will likely be required of NNSA/LANS, in the soon to be issued Hazardous Waste Permit, for operations conducted at LANL.

In the recently concluded Hearing, in which issues relating to that new Permit were extensively discussed, Mr. Bearzi, the HWB/NMED head, allowed that the establishment of an information repository would be required of NNSA/LANS, but only if such would be authorized by NMED’s Secretary Ron Curry.

Citizens groups have asked that a physical information repository, reflecting issues relating to the Hazardous Waste Permit for LANL, be set up at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC). NNMC will soon also be the home of the RACER data project. RACER is a vehicle for bringing precise information relating to the detection and characterization of environmental contaminants, resulting from LANL operations, to the general public.

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