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Even if Congress does not approve a land ownership change to allow the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico to start storing nuclear waste, the U.S. Department of Energy still wants to begin testing radioactive waste material there.

Transuranic waste from 10 nuclear defense plants - including clothing and other gear contaminated by radioactive material - would be stored deep underground in a salt formation at the WIPP plant near Carlsbad, N.M. The plant's opening has been held up because of concerns about safety and transportation.According to Catherine Kaliniak, a DOE spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., bills to allow removing WIPP site's land from the Department of Interior to the Department of Energy were introduced in the House of Representatives on April 4 and in the Senate on May 9. Since then, there has been no action, she told the Deseret News.

But the Energy Department won't give up if Congress doesn't act on the request.

According to Kaliniak, the DOE also asked the secretary of the Interior Department to "allow the receipt of radioactive waste at the WIPP for the test phase in the event that Congress does not enact land withdrawal legislation." The planned test phase is to check on possible hazards from gas generated from metal drums of waste, as a result of corrosion, chemical decomposition caused by radioactivity, or bacterial action.

"Present gas generation estimates are based solely on small-scale laboratory studies of non-radiological waste samples," she said.

"Experiments with actual transuranic waste in the WIPP repository will enable the WIPP scientists to make more informed judgments about potential gas generation problems."

But the experiments can't begin until either the land is transferred or the Interior Department allows receipt of the waste.

A supplemental environmental impact statement is to be written about results of a test phase, and about issues involving packaging and transporting waste from all ten of the defense facilities that are producing the waste.