January 21, 2015
WIPP Recovery Plan details strategy for resuming operations by 2016
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.
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.
WIPP 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.