We are surprised by the Western Governors’ Association letter of rebuke to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for not being handed information about WIPP’s five-year strategic plan. The association has a staff dedicated to WIPP and nuclear issues, so we are curious as to why the association seemed unaware of the plan’s development. We are also certain that, had any of the governors asked for an overview and a presentation, WIPP would have been happy to provide one.
Please remember, a strategic plan is just that — a plan — and we all know plans are subject to change. There is always time to add important changes to any plan. Nothing has changed in WIPP’s mission, and its five-year plan fits within the project’s clear scope calling for finishing the ventilation system, finishing the new shaft, completing the mining in Panel 8, continuing to emplace waste, and continuing to upgrade the facility to last for another 30 years in order to clean up the weapons complex.
Western governors have typically had a major focus on transportation. The WIPP transportation system is the envy of the trucking world and a fabulous story that is rarely told. WIPP trucks have made more than 12,000 shipments and traveled over 15 million loaded miles (like going to the moon and back 30 times) with no release. Nothing has changed from the enormous focus on safety.
The other possible concern since the accident are the changes in the knowledge-based decisions regarding whether waste meets the acceptance criteria or not. A new, multilayered, redundant approach to verifying exactly what comprises the waste constituents is now in force. This new, very comprehensive and rigorous system is now in place where every drum is considered guilty or nonshippable to WIPP until it is definitively proven innocent or meets the WIPP Waste Acceptance Criteria and thus, is shippable.
I’m sure the states of Washington, Idaho, California, Oregon and New Mexico in the West do not want to do anything to stop the progress of WIPP’s recovery, as their cleanup depends on this facility. It is, in fact, in the best interest of these governors to work with New Mexico to make sure the permit modifications submitted by WIPP get accepted into the state permit. We should all want WIPP to be utilized to its fullest, and delays in the process can hurt this vital cleanup process.
The citizens of southeastern New Mexico take very seriously their role in our national responsibility to make sure the weapons complex is cleaned up. WIPP plays a pivotal role in this process, and the Western governors should be trying to find every way to support WIPP and its safety.
John Heaton is chairman of the Carlsbad mayor’s nuclear task force.