Peatland protection needed to curb Riau fires

Protect Nuclear Waste from Wildfire Hazard

15 June 2014

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USA — Goal: Insist that regulators move nuclear waste now stored above-ground out of an area prone to wildfires

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), America’s only underground storage site for nuclear waste, was supposed to solve the country’s disposal problem. But a recent radiation leak prompted regulators to close the site indefinitely, leaving thousands of barrels of nuclear waste above-ground and in the potential path of seasonal wildfires, according to Common Dreams.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has scrambled for a back-up plan, without much success. Currently held in limbo at the Los Alamos National Laboratories Complex in New Mexico are thousands of cubic meters of what the agency refers to as “clothing, tools, rags, debris, soil and other items contaminated with radioactive material generated during decades of nuclear research and weapons development.”

In 2011 a wildfire came dangerously close to the site, prompting a commitment by the DOE to move waste stored there to WIPP before the end of June and the beginning of a new wildfire season. Yet despite the urgency of the situation the DOE recently announced it will not be able to meet that deadline. The agency claims there is simply nowhere for the radioactive waste to go.

This failure endangers the lives of New Mexico’s residents, risks lasting damage to the environment and calls into question the soundness of America’s long-term energy strategy. Demand that the DOE follow through on its commitment to move the nuclear waste out of harm’s way before it’s too late.


Dear Secretary Moniz,

Learning about the nuclear waste currently stored above-ground at the Los Alamos National Laboratories Complex has been deeply disturbing. The area is prone to wildfires, as demonstrated by a fire that nearly overran the complex just three years ago. Yet the DOE maintains just one location for underground storage of nuclear waste, and the WIPP has been closed indefinitely following radiation leaks.

Officials claim there is simply nowhere for the hazardous waste to go. Your agency had planned to temporarily store some of it at a facility in Texas, but this transfer was halted over concerns that the storage casks themselves are at risk for leaks. The cause of these leaks is still being investigated, although it has been suggested that a change in packing materials could be to blame.

Rather than becoming a crown jewel of responsible, forward-thinking energy policy problems at the WIPP and elsewhere have exposed the extreme risks that go hand in hand with nuclear weapons and nuclear power. This is not a situation that can be left to chance. Mr. Secretary, I must insist that the DOE safely and responsibly transfer waste currently stored at the Los Alamos complex to an area less likely to go up in flames.

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