Regulatory Background


In 1992, Congress passed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Land Withdrawal Act, reserving 16 sections of land in southeast New Mexico for the nation’s first deep-geologic repository for disposal of defense-generated transuranic (TRU) waste. WIPP has two primary regulators: the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Years earlier, Congress had passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to regulate “cradle to grave” management of hazardous wastes. In accordance with RCRA, the EPA may authorize states to implement their own hazardous waste regulatory programs. The NMED regulates WIPP by way of a Hazardous Waste Facility Permit (HWFP) that details how the facility is to manage, store and dispose of the hazardous components, such as solvents, that are present in WIPP’s “mixed” waste. Mixed waste at WIPP contains both radioactive (TRU) and regulated chemically hazardous materials. The HWFP is renewed every 10 years.

EPA was authorized by Congress, through the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act, to regulate the long-term disposal of TRU waste at WIPP and to certify that WIPP complies with disposal regulations.

At five year intervals, WIPP submits a recertification package to EPA, which includes operational, scientific, geotechnical and environmental monitoring information to demonstrate that WIPP met disposal criteria for the previous five years and that WIPP’s underground disposal system will continue to safely contain radionuclides for a 10,000-year regulatory period.

Other agencies involved in regulatory activities related to WIPP include the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, which inspects the safety of underground-related operations, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which certifies that WIPP’s specially-designed Type B shipping casks are safe to transport TRU waste. WIPP is also required to meet U.S. Department of Transportation requirements for waste shipments.