- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to hear from the public as it considers an application for recertification of the federal government’s troubled nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico.

The agency has scheduled two public meetings in Albuquerque on Wednesday. A similar meeting was held Tuesday in Carlsbad.

The U.S. Department of Energy submitted its application for recertification of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant just weeks after a drum of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory ruptured in February 2014. Radiation escaped, parts of the underground repository were contaminated and it remains closed.

The application is one of the keys to the reopening of the repository. The Energy Department didn’t address the radiation release in the application, but the EPA has spent months seeking answers to technical questions.

Watchdog Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center credited the EPA for taking the position that the radiation leak should be considered. “EPA needs more information about the changes DOE needs to make in the repository as part of the recertification,” he told the Albuquerque Journal (https://bit.ly/1CbzHI3).

Certification is part of a process that has been required every five years since the repository opened in 1999. However, this marks uncharted territory for EPA and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant because this is the first time the repository has applied for certification since the radiation mishap.

It’s not clear how long it will take the EPA to make a final decision. In the past, the process has taken a year or more.

Federal officials have estimated that it could cost more than $500 million for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to resume limited operations by next spring. It could take several years and untold dollars before full operations resume.

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