August, a drunk driver crashed into a truck in southern New Mexico that was hauling 28 55-gallon drums of nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad, N.M. (HCN, 4/12/99: Nuclear waste dump opens). Less than two weeks later, the driver of another truck carrying waste to WIPP blacked out, hurtling across an interstate median in Idaho. His backup driver was asleep in the cab.
In July, the New
Mexico Department of Transportation reported 89 minor violations
found in WIPP vehicles, which haul waste from the Idaho National
Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. "It's only a matter of
time until there's a more serious accident," says Don Hancock of
the Southwest Research and Information Center, a WIPP watchdog
group based in Albuquerque.
But WIPP spokesman
Dennis Hurtt says the accidents aren't surprising: "Statistically,
we do expect incidents and accidents to occur over the 35-year life
of the project." In response to the recent accidents, WIPP has
given drivers additional training and now requires them to take an
eight-hour rest stop on the 30-hour trip from the Idaho
Hancock says it's not enough. He
believes that every vehicle carrying radioactive waste should have
an escort and an emergency response team.
"Escorts are costly and unnecessary," says
Hurtt, "except in special circumstances, like during the Winter
This fall, Congress is expected to
increase the WIPP budget by $14 million in order to accelerate