WIPP Update

October 17, 2014
 

Head of EM Visits Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for First Underground Tour Since February Incidents 

Mark Whitney and Joe FrancoActing Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management Mark Whitney visited WIPP on Thursday and became the first non-WIPP employee to tour the underground facility since a truck fire and unrelated radiological release temporarily closed the facility in February.

"EM, and the greater DOE, is committed to reopening WIPP to support the important mission of cleaning up the nation’s legacy of nuclear waste," Whitney said. "DOE’s highest priority is the safety, health and protection of the public, the workers, the community, and the environment.

"We believe today’s tour of the underground facility represents a significant benchmark for progress toward resumption of normal activities at the facility,” CBFO Manager Joe Franco said. CBFO has responsibility for WIPP and the National Transuranic Program.
 
Following regular radiological release surveys, over half of the mine is now classified as a “radiological buffer area,” indicating workers can access the area without donning personal protective clothing or respirators. Workers are cleaning and performing preventive maintenance on equipment in the underground facility and on the surface affected by the fire event.

Replay of October 16 Town Hall available

A replay of the October 16 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 November 20th at the Carlsbad City Hall.

 

 

Photo Caption: CBFO Manager Joe Franco, left, points to a location on a map of the WIPP underground as EM Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Whitney looks on.

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?

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.

 


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