There are these two holes in the ground, one in West Texas and one in eastern New Mexico, and the owners are fighting over who can bury the worst radioactive nightmares imaginable. The problem is that every imaginable route to the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) site and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant(WIPP) runs through somebody’s backyard, usually mine.
The likelihood that the Department of Energy might use the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad to dispose of surplus weapons plutonium increased this past week.A report that provided a cost estimate of a “federal mixed oxide nuclear program” from the Department of Energy was released Saturday. The report indicates that the DOE is considering using WIPP as a lower cost alternative to the oxide nuclear program. The mixed oxide nuclear program, or MOX, is intended to convert plutonium from surplus nuclear weapons into commercial nuclear fuel.
It appears that the plan is not to store and process plutonium at WIPP, but to keep it forever. The Current-Argus reported that the changes to the MOXX program were outlined in a report to Congress:The report was required by the Omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in mid-December to review the costs of two plutonium disposition options.
It states that a cost-effective alternative to the MOX program would be down-blending the surplus weapons plutonium and having it packaged for final disposal at WIPP.
One small detour — WIPP is still recovering from an accident last year:
To send plutonium for disposal at WIPP, the repository would first have to be reopened fully. The facility has been closed since February 2014 after a salt truck fire and radiological release forced a shutdown.
Something that I had been blocking from my memory is that WIPP already stores some plutonium on site. Tom Clements is the director of the environmental group Savannah River Site Watch:
“Savannah has shipped some plutonium to WIPP before; it is on the surface. And I believe they have more plutonium ready to ship,” Clements said.
And there are plans for more, whether or not the MOXX proposal happens:
Jim Giusti, the DOE spokesman for the Savannah River Site, confirmed that Savannah does still have a small amount of plutonium at their site for shipment, waiting for WIPP to reopen.