WIPP Update

December 18, 2014

CEMRC releases final summary report on WIPP

The Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC) has posted its final summary report regarding the February 14 radiological event that occurred at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).  CEMRC is a division of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University that provides independent monitoring of the WIPP facility.  Following the radiological release that occurred at WIPP, CEMRC increased its monitoring activities – both at the WIPP site and in the surrounding area.  This included accelerated analyses of WIPP exhaust and ambient air samples, as well as environmental samples.

CEMRC data collected following the radiological event, which is available on the CEMRC website, was compared to sampling data taken prior to the February event to assess any radiological and/or ecological impacts.  The report concludes that, based on analyses conducted by CEMRC, measured radiological releases were low and localized and no negative radiation related health effects among workers or the public should be expected.  The full report may be viewed online at: http://www.cemrc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/2014-CEMRC-WIPP-Rad-Release-Event-Rpt.pdf.

WIPP annual emergency response exercise

As part of its Corrective Action Plan in response to the Accident Investigation Board reports for the February fire and radiological events, the WIPP Emergency Response Organization (ERO) has undergone extensive changes over the past nine months. On December 10, WIPP conducted its annual full scale emergency response exercise to demonstrate and evaluate the ERO’s ability to recognize, respond to, contain, and mitigate an operational emergency at the site.  The WIPP Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center joined multiple local agencies (e.g. State of New Mexico, Mine Safety and Health Administration, Carlsbad Fire Department, Carlsbad Medical Center, and both Eddy and Lea Counties) for the exercise.  Annual exercises are evaluated to help identify areas of strength and areas where there are opportunities for improvement. WIPP remains dedicated to protecting its workers, the public and the environment.

WIPP Emergency Response personnel tend to a simulated injured patient during the annual exercise.

WIPP’s Emergency Operations Center is staffed and operational during the WIPP annual exercise.

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.