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.

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

Eldorado


Undemocratic

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

Dixon


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

WIPP plans will go on even if Russia quits plutonium deal

The Albuquerque Journal reports:

“At Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, the breakdown in the bilateral agreement may deal a decisive blow to already deteriorated relationships between scientists at New Mexico’s national laboratories and their Russian counterparts, who had been working together to iron out the technical aspects of plutonium disposition under the deal, according to Don Hancock with the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque.”

Ed Lyman of Union of Concerned Scientists said “Even until last week, the U.S. was optimistic that this was one area that Russia and the U.S. could cooperate.”

Read More…

Vladimir Putin

Russia Has Pulled Out Of The Troubled MOX Project

Russia has given many expliantions for their recent exit from the MOX pact. Overall it is clear that MOX is a “good idea gone bad”. For more see the links below.

Citing “the threat to strategic stability posed by US hostile actions against Russia”. ref

Russia’s Lavrov: Russia’s MOX pact exit is a signal to Washington that: “speaking in the language of sanctions & ultimatums won’t work

The Russian Non-Proliferation Department’s official reason: The US did not officially inform on planned change of PU disposal method (from MOX plant to WIPP disposal) as required in 2000 pact.

More WIPP Fallout: NNSA Cuts Los Alamos Lab’s Award Fees by 90% Watchdogs Say Management Contract Should Be Put Out for Bid

Santa Fe, NM

Today, Los Alamos Lab Director Charles McMillan notified LANL employees that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had slashed FY 2014 management award fees to $6.25 million. Seventeen million dollars were available in fixed fees, and around $40 million in incentive fees, resulting in a 90% cut to potential awards. In addition, NNSA declined to grant a previously pro forma one-year contract extension and most remarkably rescinded a contract extension from an earlier year (see more below). As justification, the agency invoked a “First Degree” performance failure… [that] created damage to DOE property or costs for cleaning, decontaminating, renovating, replacing or rehabilitating property that in aggregate exceed $2.5 million.”

This is more fallout from WIPP. The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) used unapproved radioactive waste treatment procedures that resulted in a ruptured drum at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, contaminating 21 workers and indefinitely closing that multi-billion dollar facility. It will cost an estimated half-billion dollars to reopen WIPP, which will likely double. Additionally, the New Mexico Environment Department has proposed $54 million in fines against LANL and WIPP, and Congress has cut $40 million from cleanup programs at the Lab while adding $100 million to help reopen WIPP.

Read More…

Watchdog Urges Increasing DOE Accountability in Wake of Fines

Santa Fe, NM

Today the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) declared multiple violations at both the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NMED plans to fine WIPP $17.7 million and LANL $36.6 million due to major procedural problems related to the handling of radioactive transuranic (TRU) wastes that contributed to two significant incidents at WIPP earlier this year.

In addition to “failure to adequately characterize waste” and other violations, LANL was cited for the processing of nitrate-bearing wastes and adding neutralizing agents to that waste stream. LANL treated this procedure as if it was outside the state hazardous waste permit, but NMED determined that these operations were not exempt. LANL treated 100s of waste drums without a permit, and one of these was apparently the cause of the February 14, 2014, radioactive release at WIPP that contaminated 21 workers.

Missed WIPP Deadline May Put Real Cleanup at LANL Back On Track

Santa Fe, NM

Today the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) denied extension requests by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to delay cleanup milestones under a legally enforceable 2005 Consent Order. These denials by NMED counter a trend since January 2012 when NMED and LANL entered into a nonbinding “Framework Agreement” to ship 3706 cubic meters of above-ground transuranic waste from the Lab to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for permanent disposal. LANL radioactive wastes are now the main suspect in the February 14 contamination and subsequent shutdown of the multi-billion dollar WIPP.

NMED denied 14 extensions, now available in LANL’s Electronic Public Reading Room. These denials include construction of monitoring wells and investigation reports for cleanup of contaminated areas. All of them included language that LANL requested an extension based on the Lab’s need to divert resources to remove transuranic waste in accordance with the Framework Agreement. The denials repeatedly state, “Based on the Permittees’ [LANL’s] statement that they will not be able to meet the deadlines that they committed to in the Framework Agreement [to ship TRU wastes to WIPP], the request is hereby denied.”

Read More…

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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Quotes

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