Dave Huizenga, head of the Energy Department's Environmental Management program, said the transfer would not impact the safe operations of the New Mexico facility.
"This alternative, if selected for implementation in a record of decision, could enable the Department to reduce potential health and environmental risk in Washington State," said Huizenga.
Don Hancock, of the Albuquerque-based watchdog group Southwest Research and Information opposing the transfer to New Mexico, said this is not the first time DOE has proposed bringing more waste to the plant near Carlsbad.
"This is a bad, old idea that's been uniformly rejected on a bipartisan basis by politicians when it came up in the past, and it's been strongly opposed by citizen groups like mine and others," Hancock said. "It's also clear that it's illegal."Disposal operations near Carlsbad began in March 1999. Since then, more than 85,000 cubic meters of waste have been shipped to WIPP from a dozen sites around the country. Any additional waste from Hanford would have to be analyzed to ensure it could be stored at the site because a permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department dictates what kinds of waste and the volumes that can be stored there. WIPP spokeswoman Deb Gill said the facility does not anticipate any problems with its existing capacity as permitted under law. Officials estimate that some 7,000 to 40,000 drums of waste would be trucked to New Mexico, depending on how the waste is treated and its final form. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the proposal is a good start in the process of getting rid of Hanford's waste. "I will be insistent that the full cycle of technical review and permitting is resolved so that any grouted material does not remain in the state of Washington," Inslee said. Inslee traveled Wednesday to Hanford to learn more about the leaking waste tanks. His trip came a day after federal officials acknowledged budget cuts may disrupt efforts to empty the aging vessels.