WIPP Update

August 26, 2014

Workers establish access to north experimental area

Entry teams established access to the north experimental area of the WIPP underground facility this week.  Geotechnical engineers, accompanied by radiological control technicians (RCT), first conducted visual inspections of the north area of the mine to ensure stability and safety.  As expected, no radiological contamination was detected during the entry; however, soot from the February 5 underground truck fire was visibly present.  Additional entries will be needed to further evaluate the condition of the equipment and experimental apparatus used for basic scientific research in the underground facility at WIPP.

The north area of the WIPP underground facility has been used for decades by researchers across the country to conduct various experiments that can only be performed under conditions of extremely low background radiation.  Scientists working with the largest of the experiments from Stanford University accompanied the entry team to get a first-hand view of the condition of their detector system, which was remotely placed in cold standby in March.

Replay of August 21 Town Hall available

A replay of the August 21 WIPP Town Hall meeting, sponsored by the City of Carlsbad and DOE, is available at http://new.livestream.com/rrv/. The next Town Hall meeting is scheduled for September 4 at the Carlsbad City Hall.

Energy Secretary Moniz
Tours WIPP

"This is really an absolutely core facility for the country … we’ve just got to stay focused on getting this critical facility back in operation for the country, [and] for the community that has been so supportive and so much a partner in what we have done.” --Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz

On August 11-12, 2014, Secretary Moniz visited Carlsbad meeting with Carlsbad residents and WIPP employees. Secretary Moniz toured the WIPP site and commended employees on their efforts to recover WIPP.

Did you know?

Transuranic, or 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.

For more information about WIPP, see our Fact Sheets.

About WIPP

The nation's only deep geologic repository for nuclear waste

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is a deep geologic repository for permanent disposal of a specific type of waste that is the byproduct of the nation's nuclear defense program.

CH and RH WasteWIPP is the nation's only repository for the disposal of nuclear waste known as transuranic, or TRU, waste. It consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, soil and other items contaminated with small amounts of plutonium and other man-made radioactive elements. Disposal of transuranic waste is critical to the cleanup of Cold War nuclear production sites. Waste from DOE sites around the country is sent to WIPP for permanent disposal.

TRU waste is categorized as "contact-handled" or "remote-handled" based on the amount of radiation dose measured at the surface of the waste container. Contact-handled waste has a radiation dose rate not greater than 200 millirem (mrem) per hour, while remote-handled waste can have a dose rate up to 1,000 rem per hour. About 96 percent of the waste to be disposed at WIPP is contact-handled.

TRU waste is long-lived and has to be isolated to protect public health and the environment. Deep geologic disposal in salt beds was chosen because the salt is free of flowing water, easily mined, impermeable and geologically stable. Salt rock also naturally seals fractures and closes openings.

The WIPP site, located in southeast New Mexico about 26 miles from Carlsbad, was constructed in the 1980s for disposal of defense-generated TRU waste. The underground repository is carved out of a 2,000-foot-thick salt bed formed 250 million years ago. TRU waste is disposed of 2,150-feet underground in rooms mined from the salt bed.

WIPP has been disposing of legacy TRU waste since 1999, cleaning up 22 generator sites nationwide.