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New Mexico looks set to make it harder for the federal government to dump radioactive waste in the state



State officials on Tuesday released a draft permit that includes tougher provisions for the US government to meet if it wants to continue dumping radioactive waste from decades of nuclear research and bomb-making in the New Mexico desert.

The public will have the next 60 days to comment on proposal. Monitoring groups have expressed their support for measures that include forcing the federal government to consider developing another waste storage facility elsewhere in the United States and reporting annually on those that effort.

Top state officials have accused the federal government of taking advantage of New Mexico for decades. They are also concerned about the endless lifespan of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico.

State Senator Jeff Steinborn, Democrat Las Cruces who heads the Legislature’s hazardous and radioactive materials committee, said the permit proposed by the New Mexico Department of Environment gives the definition and meaning. means the state’s agreement with the federal government to operate underground storage.

“I think there is a mentality that New Mexico can forever be the home for all of the nation’s waste. It’s an exploitative mentality regarding our state,” he said in an interview. “And it’s good to see our state setting boundaries.”

New Mexico wants to raise the bar by requiring federal officials to provide a complete inventory of materials that still need to be cleaned and transported to storage from labs and related locations. defense across the country. The state also informed Congress that permits would be revoked if legislators expanded the waste category accepted by WIPP.

Currently, the underground landfill was created from an ancient salt system licensed to take in super-uranium waste, or waste generated by the nation’s nuclear weapons program contaminated with radioactive elements heavier than uranium. Special drums and boxes are buried there filled with lab coats, rubber gloves, tools, and other contaminated debris.

The US Department of Energy said in a statement that it looked forward to participating in the comment period.

The comment period will be followed by a public hearing and negotiations with the Department of Energy.

State officials and monitoring groups expect the Department of Energy to roll back some of the conditions and it could take a year before the final permits are issued and approved.

Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center said his team was concerned that limits on the amount of waste that could be disposed of at WIPP would not be enforced and that permits did not include an end date. same for shipments.

Hancock said the state’s proposed conditions could be strengthened. For example, the Department of Energy may include timelines and milestones in its report on efforts to develop another repository and make that information available to the public.

The license negotiations come after Congress passed last week a defense bill that would clear the way for more money to be spent making key plutonium components for the nation’s nuclear arsenal. New production wastes will require disposal.

Democratic members of the New Mexico congressional delegation have supported expanding production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the secret facility that helped develop the atomic bomb. The mission has an escalating price tag and promises to bring jobs to the state.

While federal officials have described the project as necessary for national security, critics have voice their concerns about unchecked spending, the lab’s history of safety breaches, and the environmental consequences of rampant manufacturing.

Steinborn said he recognizes the economic benefits of facilities like Los Alamos and WIPP.

“At the same time, however, we should never sacrifice or be willing to turn a blind eye or take a soft approach to strongly protect the health or safety of the community for any of these projects. this — or for that matter any industry in the status of New Mexico,” he said.

Steinborn noted that New Mexico is also grappling with pollution from previous uranium mining, oil and gas development, and the use of toxic fire-fighting chemicals known as PFAS at air bases around the state.

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