Underground nuclear waste repository begins to fill new storage area | BACK TO THE WEST | News

NEW MEXICO

The nuclear waste repository begins to fill a new storage area

ALBUQUERQUE — Workers at the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository have begun using a newly operated disposal area at the underground facility in southern New Mexico.

Officials at the waste isolation pilot plant made the announcement late last month, saying the first containers of waste to be buried in the new area came from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee – one of many laboratories and government sites across the country that package waste and ship it to WIPP.

Known as Panel 8, the new area consists of seven separate rooms to place special boxes and barrels filled with lab coats, rubber gloves, tools and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements.


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Each room is 33 feet wide, 16 feet high, and spans the length of a football field minus the end zones.

Dug into an ancient salt formation about 800 meters deep, the underground landfill outside Carlsbad received its first cargo in 1999. The idea is that the shifting salt will eventually bury radioactive waste left behind by decades of building bombs and nuclear weapons. to research.

In 2014, a fire and a separate radiation release forced a nearly three-year closure of the repository and a costly overhaul of the policies and procedures that govern WIPP and the multi-billion dollar national cleanup program for landfill waste. cold War.

State eases testing for students graduating in 2024

ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico is easing requirements for some high school students by eliminating the need to take standardized tests as a way to demonstrate they are ready to graduate, the state Department of Public Education said. .

The announcement applies to students on track to graduate in 2024. Although students must still take the tests, their scores will not be used to determine if they are eligible to graduate, Lynn Vasquez said. , which leads assessment and learning management. System.

The decision was not taken lightly and was based on advice from the U.S. Department of Education to consider the high stakes of testing to gauge performance, said Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus.

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Students, who were freshmen when the coronavirus pandemic began, still need to pass their classes, Vasquez told the Albuquerque Journal.

Whitney Holland, president of the American Federation of New Mexico Teachers, welcomed the decision. She said she hoped it would lead to teaching that doesn’t focus on teaching a test.

Amanda Aragon, who leads the advocacy group NewMexicoKidsCAN, said she fears the decision will hinder students’ success in the future.

WYOMING

Medicaid expansion on lawmakers’ agenda

CHEYENNE — Lawmakers in Wyoming’s 67th Legislature will decide whether to expand eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program in the next general session.

If approved, Wyoming will be the last western state to do so.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue voted 9-5 on Nov. 22 to sponsor a bill that would allow the Wyoming Department of Health Director, Insurance Commissioner, and Governor to negotiate with Medicare Service Centers and Medicaid to get state amendment. This would provide Medicaid coverage to everyone described in the Social Security Act, unless the federal medical assistance percentage is below a certain amount.


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This is the same bill that was not considered for introduction in the 2022 budget session or passed in the 2021 general session. The Medical Treatment Opportunity Act was sponsored by seven state officials on both sides of the aisle in 2021, and after passing the House for the first time, she died in the Senate.

Lawmakers have had the ability to expand Medicaid since 2010, when it was included in the Patent Protection and Affordable Care Act. The program was designed to cover all adults whose income is below 138% of the federal poverty level and to address historically high rates of uninsured among adults.

“At the end of the day, I think the last poll I saw was about 70% of Wyoming people supporting this. That should matter to us,” said Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, who had previously voted against expanding the Senate. She said she received more than 200 emails of support and only 20 in opposition.

Senator Tom James, R-Rock Springs, said he thinks there may be cases of fraud by residents who were not below 138% of the poverty line, while others have said the expansion could be a liability for the state because 10% of the cost is not paid by the federal government.

OKLAHOMA

A citizens’ initiative would codify access to abortion

OKLAHOMA CITY — Roger Coody, an Oklahoma hairstylist with no legal training or significant political experience, is pushing a ballot proposal he wrote that would make abortion access a constitutional right in his deeply red-hot state, where Republican lawmakers banned the procedure in almost all circumstances.

“I never want to see someone else’s right taken away from him again, because you never know when it will be yours,” said Coody, who said the women who were instrumental in his life inspired his foray into politics. “I’m just trying to do my best to turn things around.”

After overcoming the initial hurdle where someone can protest the legality of a petition, the Tulsa man now needs approval from the Secretary of State’s office. He will then have 90 days to collect more than 173,000 signatures from registered voters who wish to vote for the right to abortion. Ballot-issue campaigns can cost millions of dollars, and every signature must be verified before the governor schedules an election.


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Republican State Rep. Jim Olsen, who drafted the bill to make it a crime to perform an abortion in Oklahoma, said he recognizes the right of citizens to start an initiative petition , but added that “basic morality should not be discussed from a majority voting point of view.”

In one of the most surprising policy shifts in the conservative state, marijuana proponents in 2018 successfully passed one of the most liberal medical marijuana programs in the country. The question was approved by 57% of voters and opened up the state to a booming industry.

Other ballot measures enshrined Medicaid expansion in the state constitution and reduced penalties for drug possession and low-level property crimes, both bypassing the legislature.

Amber England, an Oklahoma political consultant who led the Medicaid expansion, said supporters likely spent more than $5 million on the effort.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Governor bans TikTok from state-owned devices

SIOUX FALLS – South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem issued an executive order on Nov. 29 barring state employees and contractors from accessing the TikTok video platform on state-owned devices, citing its ties to China.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020. It has been targeted by Republicans who say the Chinese government could access its user data like browsing history and location. The US armed forces have also banned the app on military devices.

TikTok, which exploded in popularity with an almost addictive scrolling of videos, also struggled to detect ads containing blatant misinformation about the US election, according to a recent report by the non-profit organization Global Witness and New York University’s Cybersecurity for Democracy team.


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BytDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Noem’s order.

TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas, based in Los Angeles, previously said the company protects all US user data and Chinese government officials do not have access to it.

US officials and the company are currently in talks on a possible deal that would address US security concerns.


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