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WIPP seeking permit changes

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Officials are seeking permit changes to allow more nuclear waste to be stored in an underground facility in southeastern New Mexico.

Officials with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad are looking to redefine how the volume of the waste is calculated, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported Wednesday.

The Nuclear Waste Partnership in January submitted a modification request for the facility’s permit with the New Mexico Environment Department, seeking to alter the volume calculations that include space between the inner waste containers.

The drums of waste are packed into larger containers, called overpacks, to make handling easier and to protect against ruptures. The current calculations include the outer container’s overall volume.

The Department of Energy is asking for the calculations to be based on the volume of the inner containers, claiming that measurement is more accurate.

Under the current measurement system, the underground storage facility is about halfway to capacity.

Should the change be approved, the facility would be about a third full under the alternative volume measurements, officials said.

The federal Land Withdrawal Act sets the maximum capacity for waste storage at 6.2 million cubic feet (176,000 cubic meters).

The facility would continue to report the volume under the current calculation to state if the change is approved, said Rich Chavez, a manager of Regulatory and Environmental Services for the partnership.

“We can sort that information and report it in numerous ways, but it’s one book,” Chavez said. “For the permit, for the LWDA, we hope to move forward with counting the inner container.”

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