The Dirt, April 10: "WIPP It Good"

Nuclear Issues
I read with interest Laura Paskus' article on WIPP. In particular, I noted her statement that the "oil and gas industry offers relatively few jobs." This statement is highly inaccurate. According to the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the industry directly employs 12,000-15,000 New Mexicans. If those workers all worked for one company, that would be the largest private employer in our state by far (Intel, the next largest, employs approximately 3,000).
Now that we have cleared that up, it is worth discussing the issue of nuclear storage itself. Currently, high-level nuclear waste is stored onsite at more than 100 facilities nationwide, none of which were designed for the purpose of holding such waste. It is widely acknowledged that this is not an optimal situation and that a site like Yucca Mountain or a facility designed for the purpose in the Carlsbad area would be a superior and safer option.
While the jobs and economic impact of such a facility were it to be located in our state would be welcome, safety issues must dominate. On that, Paskus and I would agree. I can hardly imagine she thinks the current situation is preferable.
Paul J Gessing
Rio Grande Foundation President

The Facts
Many aspects of Laura Paskus' highly misinformed piece merit correction, but most offensive was her statement that there's only an interest in jobs at the expense of worker safety.  
 "It's time we started watching out for our neighbors in southern New Mexico," Ms. Paskus concludes.
"We" must refer to the enlightened few, called in to protect the undereducated in the southern part of the state. I thought such paternalism was a thing of the past.
The focus of ongoing permit discussions has always been worker safety, and members of the Carlsbad community put forth a considerable effort making sure all changes are safe. This is in addition to the [US] Department of Energy's own extensive review.
I want to make sure Ms. Paskus and all residents of New Mexico know that we all take worker safety very seriously. We are looking out for our friends and neighbors, and throughout its 14 years of operations, WIPP has had a stellar safety record.  
The statement that the DOE is "chipping away at the rules" also causes concern. Laws and regulations are the product of knowledge and experience, which change with time. The permit modification process has gone on throughout [Waste Isolation Pilot Plant]'s history under all state administrations.
Here are a couple more specifics that need correction:
•Ms. Paskus' statement that WIPP workers will have less access to essential information about chemical composition simply isn't true.
•The use of lead-lined shielded containers for some shipments of remote-handled waste won't result in any additional exposure to workers.
•The DOE has expressed an interest in sending Hanford tank waste that qualifies as transuranic to WIPP, which is the same type of waste already going to WIPP.
If we're going to make mention of the safety of WIPP workers, let's make sure we have our facts right.
John Heaton
Former state representative; chairman of the Carlsbad Mayor's Nuclear Task Force

Author's response: As I point out, DOE has also proposed reclassifying waste (see the Federal Register, March 13, 2013). So yes, only "transuranic" waste will go to WIPP from Hanford, but it's waste that was formerly classified as "high level."

That's outrageous [news, April 10: "All Work, No Pay"]! That's Jim Crow-level legislation—blatant discrimination. These people put themselves at risk for their jobs and their employers and we can't find a way in 2013 to protect them and compensate them adequately if they get injured?!? That's shamefully dishonorable and outright un-American.
Lisa Wall

Like Chickens
Dang! It's pathetic to think some folks have nothing better to do than acquire hours of meaningless entertainment stealing extra copies of free newsprint [cover, April 10: "The Censorship Issue"]. A demonstration of, at best, deficient mental stamina. These folks would be more productive by humanely relocating prairie dogs. Or more self-entertained by standing on their heads and squawking like chickens.  
Albo P Fossa

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