Nuclear Waste Grows
The Loretto Peace Committee focuses on the abolition of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, it is easy for us to forget about nuclear waste. But not for New Mexico residents. Beyond the production of nuclear weapons at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (the Lab), there is the problem of where nuclear waste is to be stored.
Currently, waste from the Lab is stored near the city of Los Alamos, some of it 1.3 miles from the residential community of White Rock and 600 feet from the boundary with San Ildefonso Pueblo. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) a repository of low and mid-level nuclear waste from all over the country, located near Carlsbad, N.M., cannot receive this waste, presumably because it is too high-level.
The Lab’s waste consists, in part, of residue from the creation of plutonium pits, the triggers in nuclear warheads, manufactured at the Lab from the 1940s to the present. Currently, about 11 pits are produced there per year. There are plans to almost triple that number by increasing the production to 30 pits per year. This will increase the waste in Los Alamos.
In September, 1,100 pounds of weapons grade plutonium waste that had been in Nevada was sent secretly to a site in New Mexico. Now federal agencies want to dispose of 74,900 pounds of plutonium bomb cores from the Cold War era stored in Amarillo, Texas, by sending them to the Lab for processing before they ultimately end up at the WIPP site.
The transportation of nuclear waste is a problem for the whole country, but it is worse for New Mexico. It is problematic for the state because waste going between the Lab and WIPP would pass through Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the state’s two largest cities. Any transportation spill could be deadly.
Perhaps because there is already so much nuclear waste in the state, it is being proposed to build a facility in the southern part of the state to store spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants all over the country. Apparently, they cannot be stored at their current locations or at WIPP. The new facility would be one more potentially dangerous nuclear grave-site in this beautiful state and augment the risk of a radioactive spill from a transportation accident.
Whether or not there is a good plan for disposing of or transporting the waste, no new plutonium pits should be built at the Lab or anywhere else in the U.S.
Please contact your congressperson about your displeasure with the new military buildup and budget ($858 billion for this fiscal year), including the plan for increased production of plutonium pits at the National Lab in Los Alamos. Thank you.