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Underground Lab Capability at WIPP

Hosting Experiments in the WIPP Underground

Click here to enlarge underground shop photo (120KB)

The deep geologic repository at WIPP provides an ideal environment for experiments in many scientific disciplines, including particle astrophysics, waste repository science, mining technology, low radiation dose physics, fissile materials accountability and transparency, and deep geophysics.

Following a workshop held in June 2000 in Carlsbad at WIPP, DOE decided to formally allow use of the WIPP for research purposes unrelated to its prime mission of waste disposal.  In October 2000, former Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson designated the Carlsbad Office as a "Field" Office.  This designation allowed WIPP to offer its mine operations infrastructure and space in the underground to researchers requiring a deep underground setting with dry conditions and very low levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials.  These links (click on a thumbnail picture) provide much more information about doing research at WIPP:

Experiment gallery is available to researchers and new mining is easy and inexpensive Infrastructure and mine operations support is highly "leveraged" by the waste disposal mission

WIPP's role in the National Underground Science Laboratory (NUSL) initiative
Primary waste hoist at WIPP is state of the art - 40 ton capacity Background radiation levels from U, Th and K are low in WIPP's salt formation   Community, State and Congressional support. Support for WIPP as a host for Underground Experiments
  The very first underground physics experiment near Carlsbad was Project Gnome. December 10, 196 Secondary (salt shaft) hoist can be used to sling long materials underneath

High quality excavations are routine

More information about doing research at WIPP:

  2. Community, State and Congressional Support for WIPP as a host for Underground Experiments
  3. The very first underground physics experiment near Carlsbad was Project Gnome, December 10, 1961

The WIPP site has three principal advantages over other underground facilities in the U.S.  First, because WIPP is owned by the U.S. Government and its purpose is not to sell resources extracted during excavation, access to WIPP will not be affected by economic demand for the extracted resources as it would in a commercial mining environment. Many previous underground experiments have been conducted in working, privately owned mines that do not offer the same level of stability, particularly for those that may take decades or more to reach conclusions.

The second advantage is also because WIPP is owned and operated by the U.S. Government.  With mine operations and underground infrastructure already in place, and paid for by the waste disposal mission, the incremental cost of conducting science experiments in the underground is much smaller than any other facility.  Additionally, because the WIPP site is in the U.S., use of the WIPP site reduces travel and living expense costs for U.S. scientists, many of whom have been traveling to facilities overseas to conduct their experiments.  Use of the WIPP underground for experiments furthers the mission of the scientific community, the National Science Foundation, DOE's Office of Science, and ultimately benefits taxpayers by decreasing the total cost of experimental programs funded by our Government.

Third, the salt formation is naturally very low in primordial radioactive isotopes. Typical underground environments produce significant background radiation interference to sensitive particle detection experiments due to uranium, thorium and potassium present in the host rock. WIPP's salt environment presents natural radiation levels hundreds of times lower than typical hard rock mines.

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