WIPP Update

December 22, 2014

False Radiological Alarm in WIPP Underground

At approximately 7:40 a.m. Mountain Time today, a portable continuous air monitor (CAM) alarm activated in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) underground.  Shortly after the alarm, Radiological Control (Rad Con) Technicians wearing appropriate personnel protective equipment, entered the underground, performed radiological surveys, collected additional air monitoring data and examined the CAM before declaring it a false alarm. As a precautionary measure, all WIPP personnel were evacuated from the underground when the initial alarm was received.  Personnel exiting the underground were surveyed by Rad Con Technicians and found to be free of any radiological contamination.

While in the underground, Rad Con Technicians monitored the air using a second portable CAM, and performed radiological surveys on their way to the CAM in question. No increases in airborne radioactivity were noted and nearby surfaces were found to be free of contamination. Rad Con Technicians determined the alarm was caused by a malfunctioning CAM and the event was terminated. During the event, the filter at Station A (exhaust air) on the surface was also monitored and showed results that were consistent with normal readings.

Town Hall Meeting Scheduled

January 8 – The City of Carlsbad and DOE will co-host its Town Hall meeting featuring updates on WIPP recovery activities. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Location: Carlsbad City Council Chambers, 101 N. Halagueno Street.  Live streaming of the meeting can be seen at http://new.livestream.com/rrv/.

WIPP Recovery Plan details strategy for resuming operations by 2016

<click image above to view plan>

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Recovery Plan outlines the necessary steps to resume limited waste disposal operations in the first quarter of calendar year 2016. The plan includes the projected schedule and costs associated with resumption of waste emplacement at WIPP.

WIPP operations were suspended following an underground truck fire and a radiological release in February 2014. The recovery plan was issued on Sept. 30, 2014.

Did you know?

Deep Geologic Disposal in Thick Salt Formations is Not In Question

As you read the WIPP Recovery Plan strategy for resuming operations in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, you will see that steps are being taken to respond to all observations and recommendations from the accident investigators and other agencies’ experts who provided reviews of operations and the physical facilities.  It should be noted that these recommendations involve such things as equipment maintenance, facility housekeeping, waste treatment, and safety-systems and culture.  All the recommendations address operational issues, in other words.  None of the experts’ reports find any problem with deep geologic disposal or the use of deep salt formations as a host medium.  As early as the 1950s, the National Academy of Sciences recommended deep disposal of long-lived TRU radioactive wastes in geologically stable formations, specifically identifying salt formations as promising particularly long and secure containment.  Nothing about the WIPP events of February 2014 calls into question this National Academy recommendation.

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.