WIPP, New Mexico national labs to see increased funding in bill on U.S. Senate floor

By:  Adrien Hedden

Billions of dollars were earmarked to support nuclear operations in New Mexico in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

U.S Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) said he worked to secure funding in the Act for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and the state’s two national laboratories: Los Alamos and Sandia, along with other provisions in support of New Mexico facilities such as Spaceport America and White Sands Missile Range.

The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced the legislation this week on a 25-2 bipartisan vote, read a news release from Heinrich’s office, adopting 229 amendments.

The bill now heads to the Senate Floor for a vote.

“During my time in the Senate, I have been proud to secure significant increases in the budgets for both Los Alamos and Sandia, growing each by more than 2,000 employees,” Heinrich said.

“I have also remained steadfast in my efforts to call on the Department of Energy and WIPP to work collaboratively with the State of New Mexico and the Carlsbad community to maintain the public’s confidence and ensure that WIPP maintains the highest levels of safety and transparency."

He said much of the bill’s provisions related to New Mexico would support its military and defense installations which create jobs and revenue for the state.

“New Mexico is the center of excellence for small satellites and for directed energy weapons, and this bill increases funding and streamlines authorities to bolster those missions,” Heinrich said. “These provisions, among many others, benefit New Mexico’s economy, and advance New Mexico's steadfast position as a leader in national security for years to come.”

Committee Chairman U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the bill enjoyed bipartisan support with input from both parties.

“This year marks the 60th year in a row that the Committee has fulfilled our Constitutional duty to provide for the common defense by advancing the National Defense Authorization Act — once again with overwhelming support,” Inhofe said.

“There’s a reason for this: It’s because this bill is, to its core, bipartisan, reflecting equal input from Republicans and Democrats alike.”

Ranking member U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) touted a section of the bill that offered a pay raise for members of the military, while also providing support for their families.

“This bipartisan NDAA is a needed step toward strengthening national security and prioritizing national defense resources,” Reed said. “It provides our troops with a well-deserved pay raise and tools to protect the health and well-being of our forces and their families.”

Here are the main provisions in support of WIPP and New Mexico’s national laboratories.

The NDAA authorized $390 million for operations at WIPP, including support for disposal operations, regulatory and environment compliance operations and waste characterization and transportation.

The money would also go toward continued progress on replacing and updating infrastructure including $50 million toward a $100 million project to build a new utility shaft at the facility as part of an almost $400 million rebuild of WIPP’s ventilation system to increase airflow in the underground.

Another $22 million would go to repair and replacing aging infrastructure, and the bill would fund WIPP’s transition to using low emission diesel equipment at the facility.

Air quality at WIPP became a concern as officials worked to allow mining and waste emplacement operations to occur simultaneously as Panel 7 was filled in Panel 8 was mined.

The bill authorizes $2.6 billion for operations at Sandia National Laboratories in Fiscal Year 2021, an increase of $330 million from FY 2020.

Another $3.2 billion was earmarked for Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL), up almost $1 billion from FY 2020’s funding of $2.3 billion.

Another $1 billion would go to LANL for ongoing plutonium operations and pit production, aiming to meet pit production requirements by 2026.

The NDAA would give $36 million for a new emergency operations center at Sandia, constructing a facility up to 31,000 square feet.

The center would provide emergency assistance to improve Sandia’s ability to respond to emergency situations, the release read, which are currently housed in the basement of a “substandard” building built in 1949.

The project was expected to take two years at a cost of about $40 million.