Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

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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

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WIPP Updates

Deregulation of Rad Waste Disposal Plows Ahead

Decommissioned Reactors OK-ed for Landfills in Big Gift to Nuclear Industry

By: Jeff Ruch & Kirsten Stade | peer.org

Washington, DC —The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is finalizing a year-long drive to functionally deregulate disposal of massive amounts of radioactive waste. NRC’s  plan would allow commercial nuclear reactors to dump virtually all their radioactive waste, except spent fuel, in local garbage landfills, which are designed for household trash not rad-waste,  according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Today marks the end of public comments for an NRC “interpretative rulemaking” that would, in effect, abrogate longstanding requirements that virtually all such waste must be disposed of in licensed radioactive waste sites meeting detailed safety standards and subject to NRC inspection and enforcement.  Instead, NRC would grant generic exemptions for unlicensed waste handlers.

NRC declares its “intent” that these newly exempt disposal sites would be limited to “very low-level radioactive wastes” – a term undefined by statute – which NRC considers to be “below 25 millirem per year.”  Yet, NRC’s definition would allow public exposure to the equivalent to more than 900 chest X-rays over a lifetime, create a cancer risk twenty times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable risk range, thousands of times the risk goal for Superfund sites, or enough radiation to cause every 500th person exposed to get cancer.

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WIPP gets millions in COVID-19 relief funding, operations contract extended for one year

“Are WIPP workers getting infected at the site and taking it back into the communities?” Don Hancock said. “WIPP is clearly not always a safe place, but we don’t know if WIPP is a place where workers get infected or if infected workers brought it to WIPP.”

BY:  | currentargus.com


In August and September, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant received about $3.8 million per month of federal COVID-19 funding as the U.S. Department of Energy elected to renew the facility’s primary contractor for one year despite an option to keep Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) at the helm of the nuclear waste repository until 2022.

NWP spokesman Donavan Mager said the site received $3.816 million in August and $3.803 in September and that the funding was designated to “support operations” although he did not elaborate on how, specifically, the public money was to be spent.

Per the latest reports from WIPP, 39 workers had contracted COVID-19 as the pandemic appeared to pose a resurgence in New Mexico in recent weeks.

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WIPP Resumes Nuclear Waste Shipments from California National Laboratory

Nuclear waste shipments to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) near San Francisco, California resumed this month after a 10-year pause.

BY:  | currentargus.com

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., which was founded by the University of California in 1952, has grown to a 1-square-mile campus with almost 6,000 employees. A private contractor consortium now operates it. – National Nuclear Security Administration Via Flickr

The waste was received at WIPP and will be permanently disposed of in the underground repository about 2,000 feet beneath the surface.

The resumption of shipments from LLNL was the result of a multi-year project and collaboration between the Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO), WIPP contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the NNSA’s Livermore Field Office, read a DOE news release.

LLNL is primarily a research laboratory that generates transuranic (TRU) waste during its research and engineering operations related to nuclear weapons, plutonium and other technological aspects of the DOE’s nuclear complex.

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LANL Could Put Weapons-Grade Waste in WIPP

Tom Clements, executive director of the nonprofit Savannah River Site Watch, said the unspent fuel rods at Los Alamos contain weapons-grade plutonium. He also contended the proposed disposal method is improper and potentially dangerous. The material could get in the wrong hands or a waste barrel could burst, he said

BY:  | santafenewmexican.com

The National Nuclear Security Administration plans to move weapons-grade plutonium from Los Alamos National Laboratory to an underground storage site in Southern New Mexico that nuclear watchdogs say is not intended to hold such high-level waste.

The plan could pose a security risk, argued the leader of one watchdog group, who believes officials should conduct more analysis before moving forward.

About 26.4 kilograms of unspent nuclear fuel rods, which have been stored at Los Alamos’ plutonium plant since 2005, must be cleared out to make room for the production of new pits, the softball-sized cores that trigger warheads, according to an August report.

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Groups raise concerns about new shaft at WIPP

“The Southwest Research and Information Center is among those opposing the project. The group filed legal challenges, saying environmental officials ignored existing regulations, past agency practices and case law when giving temporary approval for contractors to begin working.”

BY SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN | santafenewmexican.com

ALBUQUERQUE — Crews working at the U.S. government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southeastern New Mexico are starting a new phase of a contentious project to dig a utility shaft that officials say will increase ventilation at the site where workers entomb the radioactive remnants of decades of bomb-making.

Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad said this week the $75 million project is a top priority and that work will be done around the clock five days a week, with an additional shift on Saturdays. The shaft will eventually span more than four-tenths of a mile and connect to an underground system of passageways.

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Cleanup of U.S. Nuclear Waste Takes Back Seat as Virus Spreads

“The coronavirus pandemic demonstrates why we should get cleanup done once and for all,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico. “What we do as humans ebbs and flows with history, but the radioactive and toxic wastes that we leave behind last longer than our recorded history. We should be acting now.”

ARTICLE BY: SUSAN MONTOYA BRIAN | santafenewmexican.com

The U.S. government’s efforts to clean up Cold War-era waste from nuclear research and bomb making at federal sites around the country has lumbered along for decades, often at a pace that watchdogs and other critics say threatens public health and the environment.

Now, fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic is resulting in more challenges as the nation’s only underground repository for nuclear waste finished ramping down operations Wednesday to keep workers safe.

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Why should NM store nation’s nuclear waste?

ARTICLE BY: LAURA WATCHEMPINO | MULTICULTURAL ALLIANCE FOR A SAFE ENVIRONMENT, PUEBLO OF ACOMA

If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s conclusion that it’s safe to move spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants across the country to a proposed storage facility in Lea County sounds vanilla-coated, it’s because the draft environmental impact statement for a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility submitted by Holtec International did not address how the casks containing the spent fuel would be transported to New Mexico.

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Legacy Nuclear Weapons Maintenance Wastes

Every base where legacy nuclear weapons (early-generation) were deployed (Bomber, Fighter Interceptor Squadrons (FIS), Nike Ajax, BOMARC Missile, ICBM), were maintained, or decommissioned, is potentially contaminated with highly classified 91(b) radioactive material (RAM) from the maintenance of the nuclear weapons during the replacing of the polonium-beryllium (Po-Be) TOM initiators.

BY ANNETTE CARY | georgeafb.info

There is an under-reported news story about radioactive contamination at Air Force bases that were closed and transferred to the public by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).

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Most Hanford workers to stay home over coronavirus concerns. No word on for how long

The site in Eastern Washington was used during World War II and the Cold War to produce plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. It was left massively contaminated with radioactive and hazardous chemical waste, which is being cleaned up now at a cost of about $2.5 billion a year.

BY ANNETTE CARY | tricityherald.com

Most Hanford nuclear reservation workers will stay home temporarily as planning is done to increase safety related to COVID-19 coronavirus. Essential employees will report to the site. COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

Thousands of Hanford workers will stay home for a second day Tuesday after the Department of Energy announced Sunday evening that the site was going into a temporary planning status to ensure the safety of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only workers essential to the nuclear reservation’s safety and security should report to work, unless they receive a call from their supervisor saying they are needed for planning work, DOE said.

Hanford employs about 9,300 workers, plus some additional subcontractor employees.

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