Closure & Institutional Control


The DOE has developed a program for the development of Passive Institutional Controls (PICs) to alert future generations to the potential hazards of intersecting the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) repository.

PICs are markers and methods designed to warn and inform future generations and civilizations about the location and purpose of WIPP. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations require that waste disposal sites use markers and other controls to indicate dangers and locations of waste.

The DOE has identified a PIC conceptual design for the WIPP site that is expected to communicate the location, design and contents of the disposal system during the regulatory timeframe of 10,000 years. The objective of the design is to tell future generations that the area at the WIPP site location is not in a natural state and that man has clearly marked the area for good reason. This “stay out” sign warns future generations of the danger of intrusion.

Two groups of experts, the Futures Panel and the Markers Panel, were established to examine issues related to designing an effective system of permanent markers. Panels of linguists, scientists, science-related writers, and anthropologists studied potential scenarios of human intrusion to the WIPP site and brainstormed about the most efficient way to retain WIPP knowledge over thousands of years. Their reports provided the foundation for the final conceptual design. The EPA approved the conceptual design in its certification that WIPP meets all regulations.

The current design is based on a concept called “defense in depth,” one that provides numerous layers of information and warnings with redundant messages. The conceptual design comprises a number of such strategically located components, each bearing its own message and method of communication. They include:

Additional PICs include incorporation of WIPP’s location on various maps and road atlases, description of WIPP’s location and content in encyclopedias, identification of WIPP as a geographical name in dictionaries and descriptions of WIPP in educational text references.