According to the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General, there are major problems in New Mexico’s nuclear waste repository. The fleet is in poor condition after years of neglect.
The investigation was prompted by allegations about fire protection concerns at repository. This repository is the backbone for a multibillion dollar effort to clean up Cold War-era nuclear waste.
Investigators found that issues with the fire department’s training program date back to 2016, at the latest. Investigators noted that the issues with the fire department training program date back to at least 2016.
The inspector general’s report states that the problems persist because the contractor who manages the repository failed to address and close recommendations from previous internal assessments. These were meant to fix the deficiencies. Inadequate oversight by officials from the Energy Department was also blamed in the report.
WIPP has seen growth in the number of employees and buildings since 2006. It is expected to continue operating beyond 2050. According to the Office of Inspector General, the next management and operating contractor must have the ability to respond to emergencies at WIPP in order to protect people, property, and the environment.
Officials from the Energy Department responded to the inspector general by saying that they have taken corrective action and are continuing to work to ensure local fire departments and first responders are equipped with the necessary training and equipment to deal with any incident related to WIPP operations.
However, officials at the agency acknowledged that there was still much to be done.
New Mexico Governor. Michelle Lujan Grisham, others and others express concern about the expansion of radioactive wastes that can be sent to the repository. The first-term Democratic governor expressed frustration with federal officials’ inaction regarding waste cleanup, shipments, and long-term plans at the repository.
This month, was temporarily stopped when workers found radioactive liquid inside a container from Idaho National Laboratory.
A federal oversight board has released the latest report. It also mentioned three recent incidents. One was where a container from Los Alamos National Laboratory had been placed underground without proper analysis to determine its flammability. The container did not pose any risk.
Nuclear Waste Partnership, which manages the repository’s maintenance, has increased its fire brigade to include full-time emergency responders after two disasters in 2014. The first was a fire that involved a salt-hauling vehicle. It was followed by radiation from an unsuitably packed drum at Los Alamos days later.
Major policy and procedure changes were required to address the incidents.
The inspector general stated that nearly half the firefighters in the repository had not been involved in live training at all for at least one year. Some had not even participated in the required training for more than two years. A second review was conducted in April 2021 and found that not all records of firefighter training were kept in compliance with the hazardous waste permit issued to the state Environment Department.
Interviews with firefighters revealed that most training is done online and not in person. They were concerned that they might lose their skills if they didn’t have the right training.
Federal officials stated that the fire department’s fleet was in the process for revising maintenance procedures. They also disclosed that $1.2 million was spent on two new fire trucks in 2021.