Sunday, November 18, 2012

WIPP: How It Gets Stuffed

The Los Alamos Monitor reported yesterday on a request filed by the Southwest Research and Information Center with the New Mexico Environment Department, regarding a SRIC lawsuit against NMED being adjudicated by the NM Court of Appeals. SRIC is requesting a stay of NMED's Nov. 1, 2012 grant of a Permit Modification Request by  the Department of Energy for the continued operation of its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

According to LAM: SRIC and Margaret Elizabeth Richards filed a Notice of Appeal in the NM Court of Appeals against NMED's decision of Nov. 1, 2012 to allow Remote Handled transuranic nuclear waste in shielded containers to be stored at  WIPP.

The appellants and approximately 200 individuals argue that the request to modify the state’s WIPP permit be subject to a public hearing because of the dangers posed by RH waste, the technical complexity of handling RH waste at WIPP and the substantial public interest in the request.

NMED approved DOE's Permit Modification Request although the state agency had in December, 2011 and January, 2012 rejected virtually the same request. [That is, whereas NMED under the outgoing Gov. Richardson had denied the request, NMED under the new Gov. Martinez has approved it.]

SRIC's website contains relevant information:

“SRIC feels that the permit request was incomplete and did not adequately address the real reason that DOE wants shielded containers — there is not enough space for RH waste because of the way the facility has been mismanaged."

In other words, SRIC objects to the proposal to store RH waste in shielded containers at WIPP on the grounds that there is no longer room at WIPP to store similar amounts of RH waste in unshielded containers. This issue has been clarified in a formal request filed with NMED for a stay of NMED's decision to allow the use of shielded containers to store RH waste at WIPP, pending a decision by the NM Court of Appeals of a suit filed by SRIC against NMED.

See SRIC's formal request to NMED for a stay of its grant of the PMR:

The following is excerpted (and contains paraphrasing) from SRIC's formal request to NMED for a stay of its grant of DOE's PMR:

SRIC shows, first, that we are likely to prevail in our Appeal.

An application for a Class 2 Permit Modification should be denied if it is a) incomplete, b) fails to comply with applicable requirements, or c) fails to protect human health or the environment. An application proposed for Class 2 procedures must be denied or reclassified as Class 3 if there is a) significant public concern or b) the modification is complex. each of these criteria provides grounds for vacating the Department's decision. We address them now in order.

a) The application is incomplete  -  because it does not fully explain why the modification is needed.

b) The application conflicts with present requirements  -  Under current regulations, WIPP may store up to 7080 m**3 of RH waste. However, according to a literal interpretation of the permit modification, WIPP will be authorized to store up to 93,750 m**3 of RH waste in shielded containers, which is the current limit for CH waste. That is, the proposed modification appears to confuse the limits for RH and CH waste, thus enabling the storage of much more RH waste than originally intended.

c) The application raises complex issues and issues of significant public concern  -  The changes in capacity limits for RH waste disposal, that will apply under this modification, are a complex issue.

d) Failure to stay the decision may cause irreparable injury  -  Without a stay pending appeal, Permittees will be able to introduce RH waste in shielded containers without realistic limit. Once emplaced, RH waste cannot be extracted without great difficulty, and such becomes more true the longer the waste is in place, and additional waste is emplaced in front of it.

e) A stay will not cause significant injury to Permittees  -  The only injury to Permittees from a stay would be some delay in introducing RH waste in shielded containers.

f) A stay is consistent with the public interest  -  The benefit to the public interest would be that no stranded RH waste in shielded containers would be created.

Thus, it is likely that the NM Court of Appeals will deny the requested Permit Modification. And for this reason, as well as for all of the reasons set forth herein, the Department should issue an order, staying effectiveness of the Nov 1, 2012 determination approving the Permit Modification Request for RH in shielded containers until the NM Court of Appeals acts upon the pending appeal.

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