A fascinating part of nuclear developments is that public opinion regarding the benefits increases the closer you get to an operating facility. Even when it comes to facilities that store the by-products, nearby residents with the most knowledge and understanding of the technology and the way that the facility is operated are incredibly supportive. As I have mentioned on Atomic Insights many times in the past, nuclear facilities tend to provide high paying, skilled jobs and they are often located in areas of the country where such jobs are hard to find. In addition, nuclear facilities are often major property tax payers and are regulated so tightly that they are very cautious about making any decisions that might negatively affect their neighbors.
In other words, the people that actually have atomic facilities in their backyard tend to like them. When there is opposition to the facility, it often has to be imported from dozens to hundreds of miles away.
There is an illustration of this tendency in an August 13, 2007 article in the Carlsbad Current-Argus online titled Residents support possible new type of waste. Here are some of the comments from a public meeting held regarding a proposal to expand the types of waste that are allowed to be sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) to include “Greater Than Class C” (GTCC).
Aside: The Carlsbad facility with a rather disingenuous name; it is currently licensed to accept 175,000 cubic meters of defense-related transuranic waste materials for permanent disposal. It is hardly a “pilot” scale facility.
More than a dozen individuals came forward to offer their comments.
Local residents who spoke were in favor of the new class of waste being deposited at WIPP. Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Lab employees pointed out that they spoke at this meeting as private citizens, not as representatives of their employers.
“There is probably no place on earth that has been evaluated more than (southeastern) New Mexico,” said Carlsbad resident Jeff Neal. “No other place is better suited for the disposal of wastes. Expand the mission of WIPP. We have the land. We understand the technology. We have the geology. We have the experience. We have the safety record,” said Neal.
WIPP is “clearly more than adequate to dispose of GTCC waste,” said Roger Nelson, DOE employee.
“I’m excited to find that GTCC might be coming to WIPP,” said Jerri McTaggart, Los Alamos employee. “WIPP is the best place to bury GTCC. WIPP is set up to handle defense waste; it only makes sense (to bring non-defense waste to WIPP).”
“I agree that WIPP would be perfect for GTCC wastes,” said Norbert Reuyse, a Carlsbad resident with a background in potash mining and the oil and gas industry. “WIPP must evolve.”
As a local paper, the Current-Argus provided some interesting perspective on the small number of people at the meeting that spoke in opposition to the idea of allowing a different classification of waste to be included in the total allowed quantity.
Some New Mexico residents from out of the area made the trip to the meeting to make sure their voices were heard as well.
“My thoughts on increasing the ability (of WIPP to receive) new kinds of waste is a mistake,” said Frank McKinnon, a Roswell resident, is an active opponent of DOE Global Nuclear Energy Partnership activities in Chaves County. “The people who would want us to have nuclear waste of any kind at WIPP care very little for any of you,” he said. “It’s very important for everyone here with the common sense to care about their grandchildren that they make some noise.”
“The cumulative impact, the increasing number of facilities, uranium enrichment, more material coming to WIPP, I would like the DOE to address that,” said Albuquerque resident Shrayas Jatkar. “There may be a lot of support in Carlsbad, but that is not true in other parts of the country,” he said.
Note: According to Google Maps, Roswell is more than 76 miles away from Carlsbad and Albuquerque is 277 miles away. Since WIPP is actually some distance to the southeast of Carlsbad, the separation between the facility and the homes of the potential intervenors is even greater.
These outsiders should have no standing to influence a decision in Carlsbad that has no effect on their livelihoods or safety.