DOE is doing it again. They want to vent unfiltered, contaminated air from the underground at WIPP into the public environment. This is very similar to DOE's plans to vent radioactive tritium gas onto the public from LANL. Both plans remove radioactive waste from the site by "dumping" it onto the public. Neither release is urgent (LANL even admits this). Instead, both will help DOE meet arbitrary "cleanup" deadlines.
In fact DOE, WIPP and LANL are developing a new "cleanup strategy" to dump radioactive waste into the public air space. We must resist their efforts. The WIPP test we'll describe below, is a precursor to running the WiPP 700-C fan on an ongoing basis, starting in 2021, according to their current schedule. And we don't know when it would end given DOE's and Nuclear Waste Partnership's (NWP) mismanagement of WIPP. There could be continuous releases for a very long time.
Read on for more information on the 700-C WIPP radioactive venting or scroll toward the bottom to see what action steps are providd.
Expected release paths of unfiltered radioactive exhaust air through the 700-C fan
Because the drum explosion and radioactive release in 2014 contaminated the air underground and damaged the filter building that filtered radioactive exhaust air, since then, underground workers have had only about 25% of the air they need.
This problem would have been solved within a year by the New Filter Building that was being constructed, but NWP, the WIPP contractor, and DOE/WIPP managed the New Filter Building contract so badly that construction has stopped. Even the the Government Accountability Office (GAO) seems to think NWP/DOE/WIPP are unable to manage such a large contract competently.
Without the New Filter Building, NWP is planning on cranking up the exhaust fans they haven't used in 6 1/2 years and venting the contaminated underground air directly into the environment—without filtration. First there will be some tests and if all goes well, unfiltered, contaminated air will be vented continuously from WIPP (except when waste is being emplaced) for the indefinite future.
Under their modeling, the maximum dose to a nearby individual will be very small and will mostly affect WIPP employees. However, safety and competence at WIPP have not improved since the drum explosion in 2014, as the New Filter Building problems and this 700-C fan venting plan show. How can we have any confidence that they will actually be able to keep to their limit, considering their history of incompetence and mistakes? The lack of air problem is a problem of DOE's and WIPP's own making which they have compounded again and again, by their continuing mistakes. Now they want to solve their problem the quick & dirty way, by dumping it into the public environment. So much for the state Environment Department permit requirement that WIPP "Start clean. Stay clean."
The underground ventilation system at WIPP. The 700-C Fan is on the left.
And NWP downplays what the effects will be, ignoring that radioactive particles are forever. Their intentional, semi-continuous release will be added to the larger WIPP release from 2014 and both will be added to the huge release from the Trinity Atom Bomb test in 1945. None of this goes away, but is suspended and re-suspended, taken up by crops and livestock, and breathed from the air.