Second WIPP shipment en route

Tuesday, April 06, 1999

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) - A second shipment of plutonium-contaminated waste has been made from a federal laboratory in northern New Mexico to the government's underground dump 270 miles to the southeast.

New Mexico authorities said the shipment left the Los Alamos National Laboratory just after midnight and had experienced only a few protesters and no problems on Tuesday's trip to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

The $2 billion dump is the destination for tens of thousands of cubic meters of the relatively low-level but long-lasting waste now stored at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

The Energy Department is facing an April 30 deadline to begin moving some of that waste out of the INEEL or see department shipments of high-level waste to INEEL for temporary storage halt until the plutonium-contaminated waste does begin moving.

Federal officials in Idaho have said the New Mexico dump is the only destination for any of that waste, but Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has said he will find another location if necessary to ensure the deadline is met.

It was not until late March that the government gave Idaho the eight-week notice of their intention to move waste out of INEEL. Officials have indicated waste could move before expiration of the notice period. But there is not a high-level waste shipment scheduled for INEEL until May - the first of five for the year.

The New Mexico dump finally got its first waste shipment in late March, more than 10 years after it was originally scheduled to open. And a federal judge had to clear that transfer.

The government is only shipping waste that has been certified as radioactive-only while state regulators continue consideration of the special New Mexico permit needed to store nuclear waste that is also contaminated with other hazardous substances. That so-called mixed waste makes up the bulk of the plutonium-contaminated material now stored at the INEEL.

The shipments include gloves, tools and protective clothing worn by workers involved in nuclear weapons production.

"There was so much to-do about the first one that you don't know what to think about the rest," spokesman Dan Balduini said. "It's going to take a dozen or so shipments until it becomes routine."

A total of 17 truckloads are expected at a rate of about one a week as waste transfers begin with regularity.