Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

ABOUT

Description and Current Mission

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is the nation's only deep geologic long-lived radioactive waste repository. Located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, WIPP permanently isolates defense-generated transuranic (TRU) waste 2,150 feet underground in an ancient salt formation.

WIPP was constructed for disposal of defense-generated TRU waste from DOE sites around the country. TRU waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, soil and other items contaminated with small amounts of plutonium and other man-made radioactive elements. The waste is permanently disposed of in rooms mined in an underground salt bed layer over 2000 feet from the surface.

TRU waste began accumulating in the 1940s with the beginning of the nation's nuclear defense program. As early as the 1950s, the National Academy of Sciences recommended deep disposal of long-lived TRU radioactive wastes in geologically stable formations, such as deep salt beds. Sound environmental practices and strict regulations require such wastes to be isolated to protect human health and the environment.

Bedded salt is free of fresh flowing water, easily mined, impermeable and geologically stable — an ideal medium for permanently isolating long-lived radioactive wastes from the environment. However, its most important quality in this application is the way salt rock seals all fractures and naturally closes all openings.

Throughout the 1960s, government scientists searched for an appropriate site for radioactive waste disposal, eventually testing a remote desert area of southeastern New Mexico where, 250 million years earlier, evaporation cycles of the ancient Permian Sea had left a 2,000-foot-thick salt bed.

In 1979, Congress authorized WIPP, and the facility was constructed during the 1980s. Congress limited WIPP to the disposal of defense-generated TRU wastes in the 1992 Land Withdrawal Act. In 1998, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certified WIPP for safe, long-term disposal of TRU wastes.

On March 26, 1999, the first waste shipment arrived at WIPP from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

WIPP's disposal rooms are nearly a half mile below the surface (2,150 feet). By comparison, the Empire State Building is only 1,454 feet high.

National Academy of Scientists Report

Review of the Department of Energy's Plans for Disposal of Surplus Plutonium in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant 2020

The mission of the Stop Forever WIPP Coalition is to stop WIPP expansion and ensure health and safety issues are fully addressed.

Video Presentation on WIPP Expansion - February 5, 2022

STOP FOREVER WIPP!

WIPP: Judge upholds change in how nuke waste is counted. Could keep site open to 2050

“We know it’s part of expanding WIPP. We know what DOE is doing but DOE doesn’t want to publicly admit it and the Environment Department doesn’t want to deal with it…The reason the laws have always put limits on WIPP is that the DOE was supposed to be finding locations for other repositories. There is no other repository and that’s why they don’t want to have a limit on what goes into WIPP.” — Don Hancock, nuclear waste program director at Southwest Research and Information Center.

Adrian Hedden Carlsbad Current-Argus November 15, 2021 currentargus.com

A New Mexico appellate judge upheld a change in how the volume of nuclear waste disposed of at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is counted, shifting the repository from being halfway to capacity to only a third full.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy requested to modify its WIPP operating permit with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to change how it counts the amount of waste toward the facility’s statutory limit of 6.2 million cubic feet of transuranic (TRU) waste consisting of clothing materials and equipment irradiated during nuclear activities.

The change was intended to count the inner volume of the waste as opposed to the volume of the outer containers that hold the waste, seeking to avoid counting air between the waste itself and waste drums.

NMED approved the permit modification request (PMR) in 2019, but Albuquerque-based watchdog groups Southwest Research and Information Center and Nuclear Watch New Mexico immediately appealed the decision.

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Energy Department to spend $15.5M to upgrade route from Los Alamos lab to waste site [WIPP]

“Essentially blessing what DOE was going to have to do anyway in order to expand nuclear weapons activities and waste disposal,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “And once again demonstrated the subservience of our state government to the nuclear weapons industry here in New Mexico.”

By Scott Wyland swyland@sfnewmexican.com Santa Fe New Mexican December 6, 2021 santafenewmexican.com

The N.M. 4 and East Jemez Road intersection in the far northwestern corner of Santa Fe County will be improved as part of a $15.5 million upgrade of routes on which Los Alamos National Laboratory transports nuclear waste to an underground disposal site in Southern New Mexico.

The U.S. Energy Department will spend $3.5 million to improve the intersection, which lies just outside Los Alamos County, and another $12 million to upgrade routes it owns and uses mostly to ship transuranic waste — contaminated gloves, clothing, equipment, soil and other items — to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

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WIPP Updates

WIPP Community Forum & Open House (In person & virtual), Thursday, July 7 at 5.30 p.m.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) and Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC (NWP) CBFO and NWP will host an in person and virtual meeting to provide an update on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

In the words of our colleague Cindy Wheeler at 285 ALL,

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to find out -from the horse’s mouth- what DOE is planning in regard to WIPP expansion.  We intend to ask questions and will expect answers that tell us how much risk this expansion will expose us to as more of a more dangerous waste is transported past our homes for what will probably be at least the rest of this century.”

Your participation is essential!! It tells DOE how concerned New Mexicans are about the risks it is proposing.  Please plan to attend, in person if at all possible.

Please register if attending virtually, however you do not need to register if attending in person.


IN PERSON:

Santa Fe Convention Center – Okeefe & Milagro Rooms

(201 West Marcy Street Santa Fe, NM 87501)

Thursday, July 7, 2022, starts at 5.30 p.m.

VIRTUAL:

REGISTER HERE

https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEuduqsqz4qH9PEL2Rbp3U5Ae7vkXDv-LAD

For questions regarding this meeting and open house please contact the WIPP Information Center at infocntr@wipp.ws or by calling 1-800-336-9477.

Coming soon!  The opportunity to participate in the 10-year renewal of the hazardous waste permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP):

The New Mexico Environment Department is required to maintain a Facility Mailing List to which you can add your name and address to get the latest information – just email Ricardo Maestas at the New Mexico Environment Department at ricardo.maestas@state.nm.us and ask to be added to the list.  Or mail your request with your mailing address to:

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Governor Backs Citizens’ Concerns About Diluted Plutonium in Letter

[Michelle Lujan Grisham] sided with residents’ contention — which she has stated in the past — New Mexico shouldn’t be home to the nation’s sole nuclear waste storage site.

“The petitioners would like to see the DOE develop a new disposal site in a state other than New Mexico,” she wrote in the letter.

 | April 18, 2022 santafenewmexican.com

WIPP will get more space
A continuous miner operates at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asked the Department of Energy in a letter Monday to create another nuclear waste plant outside the state. Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is asking the Department of Energy to be more open about its plans to dilute and dispose of surplus plutonium and to address concerns by New Mexico residents about the radioactive materials that would be shipped through the state multiple times.

In a letter to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, the governor cited a 1,146-signature petition her office received in which residents expressed uneasiness about the agency’s vague plans to dilute dozens of metric tons of plutonium — which partly would be done at Los Alamos National Laboratory — before disposing of it at an underground site in Carlsbad.

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Discovery of radioactive liquid pauses work at US nuke dump

“Independent federal investigators last month raised concerns about whether cost overruns and missed construction deadlines will continue at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant…State regulators are weighing a permit change that some critics have said could lead to expanded repository operations. A decision is expected later this year.

BY | April 11, 2022 AP NEWS apnews.com

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An area at the U.S. government’s nuclear waste repository in southeastern New Mexico was evacuated over the weekend after workers handling a shipping container discovered a small amount of radioactive liquid inside it.

There was no indication of airborne contamination and testing of workers’ hands and feet turned up no contamination after the discovery was made late Saturday in a bay where containers are processed before being taken underground for disposal, officials said in a statement.

“The event at the site has been secured. There is no risk of radiological release and there is no risk to the public or the environment,” plant officials said their most recent statement, issued late Saturday.

Workers evacuated from area of Carlsbad nuclear waste repository after ‘abnormal event’

Officials at the facility say there was no risk of radioactive contamination.

BY | April 9, 2022 Carlsbad Current Argus currentargus.com

Carlsbad led to the evacuation of workers Saturday night from an area of the facility where waste is prepared for disposal.

The incident was reported at about 8:20 p.m. in the waste handling building, where shipments of nuclear waste are prepared for disposal in the underground repository.

Officials said there was no risk of a radiological release after the event was investigated.

As a drum of waste was being processed, liquid was found at the bottom of the container which tested positive for radioactive contamination, per a news release from WIPP officials.

All personnel in the area were evacuated and tested for contamination, and operations were temporarily paused.

Watchdog has concerns with projects at U.S. nuclear repository

“Nuclear watchdog groups have been critical of the Energy Department. They have raised concerns about the repository’s future, citing the increase in defense-related waste that will need to be disposed of when production of key components for the country’s nuclear arsenal ramps up at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.”

 | March 15, 2022 santafenewmexican.com

ALBUQUERQUE — There’s no way of knowing if cost increases and missed construction deadlines will continue at the only United States underground nuclear waste repository, according to a federal watchdog report made public Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office outlined the concerns in its report, noting the U.S. Energy Department is not required to develop a corrective action plan for addressing the root causes of challenges at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Southern New Mexico.

A multimillion-dollar project is underway at the underground facility to install a new ventilation system so full operations can resume after a radiation leak in 2014 forced the repository’s closure for nearly three years.

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Waste Isolation Pilot Plant: Construction Challenges Highlight the Need for DOE to Address Root Causes

The new ventilation system at WIPP now estimated to take 4 more years and $200 million more dollars than original estimates.

NEW Report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office March 15, 2022 https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-22-105057

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), near Carlsbad, New Mexico, is the nation’s only facility for disposal of certain defense-related nuclear waste. The Department of Energy (DOE) identified two root causes for cost increases and schedule delays in its project to install a new ventilation system at WIPP (see figure). The facility is currently operating at a reduced capacity because of ventilation issues in the underground waste disposal areas. The root causes DOE identified were (1) its contractor’s inexperience managing construction projects and (2) an inability to incentivize staff to work in Carlsbad. DOE also identified more specific problems with this ventilation project, and has taken corrective actions to address them. While some of these corrective actions may also help to address the root causes, the extent to which these actions will do so is unclear because DOE is not required to develop a corrective action plan for addressing the root causes and does not have a process to determine whether root causes have been sufficiently addressed. Without such a plan and process, DOE cannot ensure that root causes it identifies for cost increases and schedule delays in the WIPP ventilation project or other projects will not persist or recur.

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‘More than 1,000’ New Mexicans call State to oppose plutonium plan at nuclear waste site

PRESS CONFERENCE MAR. 1, 2022 - NEW MEXICANS SUPPORT GOVERNOR ACTING TO STOP WIPP EXPANSION

Adrian Hedden Carlsbad Current-Argus March 4, 2022 currentargus.com

“New Mexico agreed to host WIPP after carefully crafting agreements that limit what the federal government can do with it. It was afraid that this very thing would happen, and DOE didn’t disappoint,” she said Tuesday during a press conference in Santa Fe.

“WIPP’s mission can only be changed if the DOE breaks every legal agreement that it made with New Mexico in order to get it to host the WIPP site in the first place.”

Also concerning, Weehler said, was the transportation plan to ultimately bring the plutonium to WIPP.

Mostly originating at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, the waste would first travel to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LAN) in northern New Mexico via truck for processing.

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Why You Should Care about the Expanding WIPP Mission

Cindy Weehler gave a powerful speech during the March 1, 2022 press conference at the New Mexico Capitol about why you should care about the expanding mission for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).  People are opposing the Department of Energy (DOE) WIPP expansion plans that violate the law.  We provide Weehler’s speech below.

Weehler is Co-Chair of 285 ALL, a neighborhood issues awareness group based south of Interstate 25.  Before the press conference, she presented over 1,100 petition signatures to the Governor’s Office.  The petition reads:

Petition to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham

New Mexicans call on Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to stand up for public health and the environment by stopping the expansion of the nuclear waste facility called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico.

New Mexicans oppose the nuclear waste expansion at WIPP because:

  1. The federal government’ plans would transport more nuclear weapons waste to WIPP than is allowed.*
  2. The plutonium nuclear waste in the WIPP expansion is still dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years and endangers the health of our families and future generations.
  3. Unless New Mexico says ‘NO’ to WIPP expansion, other disposal locations will not be developed, and WIPP and NM will always be the only dump site, which is not fair. New Mexico never agreed to bear the burden of being the only nuclear waste dump site in the country.
  4. The federal government has not been transparent about its WIPP expansion plans, and has repeatedly refused to discuss the plans publicly, including in hearings on the WIPP Permit. Many New Mexicans are not even aware of those plans. We deserve a transparent and fair process that includes the voices of all impacted communities.

We strongly support, and urge our Governor to take all necessary actions, including denying permits for the piecemeal expansion.

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New Mexico governor asked to stand up to more nuclear waste

This citizen petition highlights the frustration of New Mexicans with DOE’s Environmental Management program. We fully expect the Department of Energy to meaningfully engage with stakeholders in New Mexico communities on this issue.” – Nora Meyers Sackett, governor spokeswoman. 

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN | AP NEWS March 1, 2022 apnews.com

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A coalition of environmentalists and nuclear watchdogs on Tuesday delivered more than 1,000 petition signatures to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham asking her to take all steps necessary to stop any expansion of the federal government’s nuclear repository in southeastern New Mexico.

Dozens of people gathered at the state Capitol because they are concerned about the potential for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to be a disposal site for diluted plutonium.

They said the dump was never intended for that type of radioactive waste.

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Resources & Media

Action Alerts

WIPP Community Forum & Open House (In person & virtual), Thursday, July 7 at 5.30 p.m.

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) and Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC (NWP) CBFO and NWP will host an in person and virtual meeting to provide an update on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

In the words of our colleague Cindy Wheeler at 285 ALL,

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to find out -from the horse’s mouth- what DOE is planning in regard to WIPP expansion.  We intend to ask questions and will expect answers that tell us how much risk this expansion will expose us to as more of a more dangerous waste is transported past our homes for what will probably be at least the rest of this century.”

Your participation is essential!! It tells DOE how concerned New Mexicans are about the risks it is proposing.  Please plan to attend, in person if at all possible.

Please register if attending virtually, however you do not need to register if attending in person.


IN PERSON:

Santa Fe Convention Center – Okeefe & Milagro Rooms

(201 West Marcy Street Santa Fe, NM 87501)

Thursday, July 7, 2022, starts at 5.30 p.m.

VIRTUAL:

REGISTER HERE

https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEuduqsqz4qH9PEL2Rbp3U5Ae7vkXDv-LAD

For questions regarding this meeting and open house please contact the WIPP Information Center at infocntr@wipp.ws or by calling 1-800-336-9477.

Coming soon!  The opportunity to participate in the 10-year renewal of the hazardous waste permit for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP):

The New Mexico Environment Department is required to maintain a Facility Mailing List to which you can add your name and address to get the latest information – just email Ricardo Maestas at the New Mexico Environment Department at ricardo.maestas@state.nm.us and ask to be added to the list.  Or mail your request with your mailing address to:

Continue reading

HELP US SUPPORT NEW MEXICO’S GOVERNOR IN ACTING TO STOP WIPP EXPANSION!

STOP “FOREVER WIPP!”

The Department of Energy is seeking to modify the nuclear waste permit for southeastern New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Dragging out WIPP’s operations decades past the original 20-year agreement violates the social contract made with New Mexicans. WIPP is being equipped to take the waste that will be generated from production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads, and it was never supposed to do that. An expansion of WIPP will impact the entire country, not just residents of southeastern New Mexico.

View the videos below for more information, and, if you live in an area that may be endangered by these nuclear waste transportation risks, please consider making your own “This is My Neighborhood” video!

Background Information –  Problems with Nuclear Waste
Playlist: Problems with Nuclear Waste


Mixed Waste Landfill Facts

Mixed Waste Landfill Facts

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Quotes

There are two problems for our species’ survival – nuclear war and environmental catastrophe – and we’re hurtling towards them. Knowingly.
– Noam Chomsky