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By ENERGY.GOV (WIPP Practice Exercise) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carlsbad may call for audits of WIPP by independent firm

Zack Ponce for Carlsbad Current-Argus, N.M.

CARLSBAD — There may be more oversight of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the future if city leaders get their wish.

The city of Carlsbad plans to request that a quarterly audit at WIPP be performed by an outside organization, according to John Heaton, chairman of the Carlsbad Nuclear Task Force. The audit would cover the radiological components of the nuclear waste disposal facility located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, as well as safety procedures and training. These issues are not under the authority of the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The Carlsbad Nuclear Task Force is a committee under the authority of city Mayor Dale Janway, and the idea was agreed upon by the committee during its Thursday morning weekly meeting, Heaton said.

Related: WIPP: NM Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn calls for immediate closure of waste panels

The quarterly audit would cost approximately $568,000 annually, and the city proposes that the Department of Energy foot the bill because it was under their watch that multiple accidents occurred at WIPP over the course of this year according to Heaton.

“(The DOE) will probably be reluctant, but the point is they have been doing audits and they’ve allowed this facility to get in this position, so the audits they’ve been doing are essentially worthless,” Heaton said Friday.

The DOE already conducts internal audits of the facility, but Heaton said it is hard for the public to trust the government entity after an underground vehicle fire and subsequent radiation leak. MSHA, the oversight entity that reports to the Department of Labor, also conducts audits of the underground mines at WIPP, but the last audit MSHA conducted was around a year ago, according to DOE Carlsbad Field Office Deputy Manager Dana Bryson.

“We are working to help secure the resources necessary for MSHA to do more routine audits of the facility,” Bryson said on Thursday.

The DOE said MSHA is not now adequately staffed to handle the burdens of overseeing safety in New Mexico, a state that includes potash and salt mining near Carlsbad.

Members of the Carlsbad Nuclear Task Force have had preliminary discussions with DOE Deputy Undersecretary David Klaus, as well as New Mexico’s congressional delegation, Heaton said.

The DOE chose not to respond to Heaton’s comments, but said they were aware of the desire for a local monitoring organization. An official request has not yet been submitted by the city of Carlsbad to the DOE.

Reporter Zack Ponce can be reached at (575) 689-7402.

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