Waste Isolation Pilot Plant


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.

History of WIPP

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.

Browse this page to keep updated on NukeWatch and other local community groups efforts to STOP FOREVER WIPP

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


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Video Presentation on WIPP Expansion - February 5, 2022

Community Responses & Criticisms to WIPP Forum July 7

The U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of Environmental Management held a Presentation and “Community Forum” for Santa Fe on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), formatted as a hybrid in-person and Zoom meeting on Thursday, July 7, 2022.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is extremely disappointed and unsatisfied with the outcome of this "forum" and is not alone in criticizing both the substance of the meeting and the format. See more criticisms below from others who attended:

Read the following Letter to the Editor in the Santa Fe New Mexican paper, July 19:
On the Mark

Kudos to Scott Wyland for his balanced and accurate description of what occurred during the July 7 community forum to address the public's concerns about proposals and plans related to the storage of plutonium-contaminated waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad. ("Critics unhappy with nuclear panel," July 9)

As a virtual participant, I judged the forum to be nothing more than a dog-and-pony show by the U.S. Department of Energy and WIPP's managers: They never intended to have a meaningful and open exchange about the public's concerns. With a seeming ethos of "asking forgiveness is easier than obtaining permission, we shouldn't be surprised if this and future Energy Department proposals are just more stealth actions, which will ultimately turn The Land of Enchantment into America's Nuclear Waste Dump.

Dick Goldsmith

Santa Fe

More Recent LTEs:
My View Cynthia Weehler

WIPP 'chat' fell short of exchange of information

"Let's chat about WIPP," said General Manager Reinhardt Knerr ("Letters to the Editor," July 7) on the day of his planned public forum for the good people of Northern New Mexico.

Well, let's do chat. Your community meeting for the public was a chat disaster. Chats are back-and-forth exchanges of information. Chats don't gag one side so the other is the only one talking. Your "chat" was a mind-numbing, 48-slide Power Point and lecture advertising the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

After this, we were told — as if we were children — to write any questions we had on index cards and turn them in to the enforcer — er, I mean moderator. He then chose the questions he wanted answered and, for a few more minutes, a one-way "chat" occurred. After that, "participants" were invited into a room, only a few at a time, to talk one on one with the presenters. This "divide and conquer" strategy meant no one but the two "chatting" could hear the question and the answer.

Watch the video recording of the full meeting with the chat included below or on YouTube here

This wasn't our first rodeo dealing with the Department of Energy, and we were prepared to ask for what would meet our needs. I stood at the end of the formal presentation to ask if I could speak for a moment — and that's as far as I got. I was told forcefully, "No ma'am" and, "You need to sit down." It was eerie to see the previously jolly demeanor of the presenters turn into a vision of your worst high school teacher.

The response was telling. I had no idea the Department of Energy/WIPP presenters were so frightened of the public. The very idea that we might actually try to interact with them turned them into autocratic bullies who were afraid of what we might "chat" about. The Department of Energy is afraid to meet with us as equals.

Because we have no power and are not even allowed to speak to this overbearing agency, we've asked our congressional representative to host a meeting between the Department of Energy and the public. We've asked the governor to meet with us to discuss this. Instead, we hear the "chatting" of crickets.

The Department of Energy is creating a whole new mission for WIPP that puts the public at incredibly increased risk. That alone should guarantee us a voice. Instead, we're offered an Orwellian "chat" that insults as it silences.

Cynthia Weehler is co-chair of 285ALL, grew up in Roswell and wants those at risk to know about it. She lives in Santa Fe. More reaction to the recent WIPP "chat" is available at santafenewmexican.com.

Citizens say WIPP conversation was anything but

One cannot hear with out deep anger the satisfaction and pride expressed by three men to an overflowing crowd at the recent "update" to the increasing capacity of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. From 300 shipments of radioactive waste across New Mexico highways into deep vaults, they seemed pleased that 600 is soon to become 680 a year, with ever-increasing shiploads a year indefinitely. While the Carlsbad salt beds are to encroach over time over these lethal containers, high-level radioactive waste remains dangerous to humans and the more than human life forms for millennia. Realizing this, Finland has isolated its radioactive waste on an island, Onkalo, filled the main access tunnel with rubble and concrete and sealed the entrance.

No one working on the project today will be alive, yet the radioactive waste receptacle must last for 100,000 years — that's as long back as the Ice Age, before homo sapiens had arrived; that is longer than any man-made structure has survived to date (more than pyramids, more than Stonehenge). As geologists agree, WIPP and its radioactivity will last forever. Who can guarantee that responsible guardianship of this area in New Mexico can be sustained? What "company" or what "government" will be here to safeguard what must be isolated from all others life forms, from the water, from escaping into the air? What language will be understood 100,000 years hence? Finland has chosen a skull and cross bones to mark the spot. What will New Mexicans choose?

M. Eagle

Santa Fe

Not a chat

Last night's Community Forum and Open House on WIPP, sponsored by the Department of Energy, had all the hallmarks of a meeting designed to shut out informed questions from local citizens. First, there were no handouts so we relied on a power point presentation that was difficult to see and no laser pointer to show complex information. Talk about acronyms, jargon, and bureaucratic terms with no explanation for the lay citizen! What are "upwinders?" Is my property north of WIPP an upwinder for plutonium powder accident? The U.S. Department of Energy presenter could hardly be heard? As a lay citizen, I came to learn and ask questions. There were too many barriers to do either with the poor AV system and no time for a majority of questions to be addressed. If DOE truly wants to provide information to the public, get some coaching on making clear presentations. Unless — all this was by design to create less than full transparency. You were out of luck if you had come to get information. You couldn't hear; you couldn't see; and there was no time left to address questions sufficiently.

Christine Marchand



I attempted to record the WIPP town hall in Santa Fe on behalf of my organization, Available Media. At first I was told I could not video record at all. I reminded the security people that this is a democracy where freedom of the press is valued and was eventually assigned a corner of the small room allocated for the meeting. I recorded a long dialogue by WIPP representatives on their many accomplishments, along with thwarted attempts by the public to speak about their concerns. Some of our political representatives were there as well as leaders of communities concerned about transportation of surplus plutonium which is part of WIPP's planned expansion. None were allowed to speak. Some were treated rudely.

At the end of the hour-plus DOE dialogue, 15 minutes were allotted for audience questions. I watched the questions being carefully filtered. After the public meeting when individuals asked WIPP officials questions one on one and received answers, I was not allowed to record the exchanges. I fought for my country but this kind of repression was not what I fought for. Democracy took a blow last night in Santa Fe and we have WIPP officials and their henchman-like security people to thank for that.

Bob Aly


Bait-and-switch meeting

The "community forum" that the manager of the DOE, Carlsbad Field Office promised to the people of Santa Fe on July 7, in which we could "chat about WIPP," was anything but a forum. DOE put on a dog-and-pony show and forbade the people, including an elected representative, to speak.

With this bait-and-switch meeting, indeed with the whole DOE scheme to extend the lifetime and mission of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, DOE is pissing on our boots and telling us it is raining.

James Randall Oyster

Santa Fe

Not helpful

I tried to "chat" with the Department of Energy officials about WIPP at their Santa Fe meeting as they had been invited us to do. About 200 people attended both in-person and online. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to speak our questions directly and DOE left almost no time to answer them anyway. DOE seemed unprepared for the high turnout and was rude to members of the public, at least one journalist and at least one elected official. Many in-person attendees had to watch the presentation on TV and none of the online public could see, or chat with presenters, during the poster display.

DOE has long resisted describing future plans for expanding WIPP to the public, even refusing to allow the phrase "WIPP expansion" to be mentioned during hearings. The public was hoping finally to find some transparency on this issue from DOE, but that didn't happen at this meeting.

Deborah Reade

Watch the video recording of the full meeting with the chat included below or on YouTube here

WIPP Updates

Nuclear waste facility near Carlsbad sees COVID-19 surge as infections rise in New Mexico

Carlsbad Current-Argus currentargus.com

COVID-19 infections resurged at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in recent weeks as cases of the virus climbed in the communities surrounding the nuclear waste repository in southeast New Mexico.

There were 14 positive cases among workers at the site or associated with the facility reported between Aug. 17 and 31, per the latest report from Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) – WIPP’s primary operations contractor.

In total, WIPP reported as of Aug. 31, there were 25 active cases.

WIPP officials did not report the identities of patients or companies where the infected workers were employed.

All employees at WIPP were encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, per an NWP news release, and required to wear protective face masks when indoors, vaccinated or not, and social distance when possible.

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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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Waste Isolation Pilot Plant needs more space to dispose of nuclear waste, officials say

“..A 10-year renewal of the permit itself was underway after expiring last year and Don Hancock, nuclear waste program manager at watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center said any modifications to the permit should be included in the full renewal or wait until after its approval.

He said the DOE aimed to “piecemeal” an expansion of WIPP operations and its lifetime to avoid a discussion on broadening the facility’s purpose and keeping it operational indefinitely.

The current permit called for WIPP to be closed by 2024, but officials speculated it could take as long as until 2050 to complete its mission.”

BY: Adrian Hedden Carlsbad Current-Argus

More underground space is needed to complete the mission at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to dispose of nuclear waste, contend WIPP officials during a Monday public meeting.

The U.S. Department of Energy was underway with a permit modification request (PMR) that would amend the DOE’s permit with the State of New Mexico to allow for the mining of two new panels where waste would be disposed of along with drifts connecting the panels to the rest of the underground repository.

At WIPP, transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste consisting of clothing items and equipment irradiated during nuclear activities at DOE sites across the country is disposed of via burying in an underground salt deposit.

To achieve this, panels consisting of seven rooms each are mined about 2,000 feet underground where drums of the waste are emplaced, and the salt gradually collapses to permanently entomb the waste.

But due maintenance issues and a three-year shutdown of underground operations in 2014 following an accidental radiological release, portions of three of panels were left unusable and the DOE hoped to mine new panels to finishing burying the waste.

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Rep. Chris Chandler and NMED Sec. James Kenney Unhappy With Progress Of Waste Shipment From LANL

“The poor performance at LANL I think is exactly why we sued the Department of Energy because we believe the DOE and contractor are in violation of the Consent Order, we need to correct that and from a policy perspective, the Department of Energy has prioritized over New Mexico, cleanup at Savannah River, cleanup at Idaho National Labs, cleanup at all these other places and that is unacceptable to the state of New Mexico since we are the only state that holds the geologic repository known as WIPP,” – New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney

BY MAIRE O’NEILL maire@losalamosreporter.com | The Los Alamos Reporter June 8, 2021

District 43 Rep. Christine Chandler and New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kenney on Monday both criticized the Department of Energy’s lack of progress in shipping waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in Carlsbad. Their comments were made during the Legislative Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Committee meeting. Chandler is the vice chair of that committee.

Eletha Trujillo, Bureau Chief of the Hazardous Waste Planning Division at the state Energy, Minerals and National Resources Department, earlier in the meeting noted that there are two groups from LANL that ship waste – the DOE Environmental Management group and the DOE National Security Administration group.

“The DOE NNSA group had some safety violations back in February – the spark incident that occurred with a barrel at Los Alamos and so they have not been able to do any shipments. They do have material, but they’re not able to ship anything because they’re under a safety hold by the NRC. When they complete their plan and they get approval again from the NRC then the NNSA will be able to ship again. We don’t know when that’s going to happen. Typically the NNSA tends to have more safety violations than Environmental Management,” Trujillo said.

She added that EM has shipped their material and does not have enough material for a full load.

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New company sought to operate Waste Isolation Pilot Plant under $3 billion contract

Little change to workforce, operations expected

Adrian Hedden Carlsbad Current-Argus |

A new primary contractor could be coming to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant as the U.S. Department of Energy sought bids from prospective contractors for the management and operations of the nuclear waste site near Carlsbad.

The current holder of the contract Nuclear Waste Partnership began its work at WIPP in 2012 and its contract will expire in September 2021, with an extension carrying the contract through September 2022.

At that point, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Amentum – NWP’s parent company – Keith Wood said the contractor’s lifetime would end.

“NWP was established to perform the current mission for the current contract,” Wood said. “That company will not be bidding on the next contract. Their sole mission was to perform the work under the current contract.”

Wood declined to comment on if any Amentum-led subsidiaries would bid on the new contract to operate WIPP.

The four-year contract will include six, one-year extension options and was valued at $3 billion over a 10-year performance period.

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Department of Energy seeks to modify N.M. plant’s nuclear waste permit

Dragging out WIPP’s operations decades past the original 20-year agreement violates the social contract made with New Mexicans, said Scott Kovac, research and operations director for the nonprofit Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

WIPP is being equipped to take the waste that will be generated from production of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads, Kovac said.

“It [WIPP] was never really suppose to do that,” Kovac said.

Scott Wyland swyland@sfnewmexican.com | Santa Fe New Mexican May 17, 2021

Federal officials say a new air shaft is needed at the nuclear waste disposal site in Southern New Mexico to keep workers safe and run more efficiently.

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WIPP- When is a Shaft More Than a Shaft?

Watch this video from the Stop Forever WIPP coalition: “When is a shaft more than a shaft?” dispelling the idea that an expansion of WIPP will mostly impact the South Eastern part of New Mexico; The new waste targeted for WIPP would be re-processed at Los Alamos. It also dispels the idea that targeting NM for waste disposal has nothing to do with our minority majority population.

WIPP completes maintenance outage, intends to up shipments of nuclear waste post-pandemic

Reinhard Knerr, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office said WIPP will resume accepting shipments of low-level transuranic waste from DOE sites around the country and will continue to emplace the waste for final disposal in WIPP’s underground mine.

By:  | currentargus.com April 26, 2021

Shipments and disposal of nuclear waste resumed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant after a two-month pause in the repository’s primary operations to allow personnel to complete several maintenance projects underground and on the surface.

WIPP completed 97 projects during the maintenance outage which ran from Feb. 15 to April 15, upgrading infrastructure throughout the facility.

The work involved mine operations, waste handling, hoisting, ground control, safety and engineering, and the break included a site-wide power outage to allow electrical work to be completed safely.

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Waste Isolation Pilot Plant aims to expand underground facility to hold nuclear waste

“WIPP is supposed to be limited. The state did not agree to 12 panels.”

By:  | currentargus.com April 15, 2021

A plan to build two new areas to dispose of nuclear waste began taking shape at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant after the U.S. Department of Energy published a report on the feasibility of adding an 11th and 12th waste panel to the underground nuclear waste repository.

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STOP FOREVER WIPP! Specific News to WIPP Closing Plans

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Resources & Media

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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

Action Alerts

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