WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing to confirm Victoria Marie Baecher Wassmer to be Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy and Cherry Ann Murray to be Director of the Office of Science at the Department of Energy, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) focused his questions to the nominees on Waste Isolated Pilot Plant (WIPP) safety and recovery efforts and technology transfer opportunities.
During his conversation with Victoria Marie Baecher Wassmer, Senator Heinrich underscored that the safety of WIPP workers and the surrounding community should remain top priorities for DOE as the agency oversees facility's effort on restoring safe operations. Senator Heinrich said, "We're all eager to see that facility reopen-to see the staff there get back to work, but we need to do it in a way that puts their workplace safety at the absolute top of the priority."
WIPP, located in Carlsbad, New Mexico, is the only active facility in the United States that disposes defense-generated transuranic (TRU) waste. The facility halted operations in February 2014 following two separate accidents -- a fire and a radiation release.
Senator Heinrich has been a leading voice in making WIPP recovery a priority. In August 2014, Senator Heinrich joined Secretary Moniz at WIPP for an "all hands" employee meeting, surface tour, and townhall with Carlsbad residents. At the hearing, Ms. Wassmer assured Heinrich of her commitment to restoring WIPP to safe operation. She also expressed a desire to visit WIPP.
Senator Heirnich also sent a letter with U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) calling for increased cleanup funding for WIPP.
Earlier this month, Senator Heinrich fought to include the Microlab Technology Commercialization Act, S. 784, a bill he introduced, into the conference report for the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. The bill would accelerate technology transfer by establishing off-campus microlabs that would serve as the "front-door" to national laboratories. The microlabs would give academia, local government, businesses owners, and communities direct access to equipment, facilities, and personnel of national laboratories. Dr. Murray specifically mentioned the value of small-business vouchers to help promote commercialization, which is included in Senator Heinrich's National Lab Technology Maturation Act, S. 1259.
An archived video of today's hearing and the list of additional DOE nominees are available here.