Waste Transportation


The DOE employs professional trucking firms that offer excellent safety records and years of experience in transporting hazardous materials. Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) drivers must pass stringent safety and emergency response examinations and maintain good driving records.

Drivers work in pairs to assure that the truck and payload are attended at all times and that drivers are rested when it is their turn to drive.

WIPP uses conventional diesel tractors and specially-designed trailers. The trailers can carry a total of three Transuranic Package Transporter Model 2s (TRUPACT-IIs) or HalfPACTs, one TRUPACT-III or one RH-72B per shipment.

Features in the tractor cab include:

Each shipment is inspected to Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Level VI standards, the industry’s highest level, prior to departing a transuranic (TRU) waste generator site. WIPP drivers are required to stop and check their trucks and payload every 150 miles or three hours en route. The trucks are also subject to inspection at state ports of entry.

Other transportation safeguards include:

U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require radioactive materials to be shipped on the interstate highway system unless states designate other routes. WIPP shipment protocols were developed through cooperative efforts with states and tribal governments. DOE also works with a number of state and regional groups, including the Western Governors’ Association, Southern States Energy Board and the Council of State Governments.

DOE developed the Transportation Tracking and Communication System (TRANSCOM) to track DOE shipments of high-visibility radioactive materials and to maintain communication with the drivers as a public safeguard. Trucks that transport TRU waste to WIPP for disposal are monitored by this system.

TRANSCOM personnel monitor WIPP shipments around the clock from a secure control center, using satellite and terrestrial communications to pinpoint the location of shipments en route.

The vehicle’s position is transmitted to a satellite receiving station and relayed to the TRANSCOM control center. Shipment icons are displayed on computer-generated maps that identify the vehicle’s location within 500 feet. The control center also houses a database that contains transportation information, such as shipment schedules, routes, completed shipment data and copies of the shipping bill of lading/manifest.

Federal, state and tribal officials with access to the password-protected web application can monitor the shipments from their computers or mobile devices. Drivers and others with access to the system communicate with one another through TRANSCOM’s messaging system to exchange information about off-normal events, changes in weather or road conditions.

As part of the shipping protocols agreed to by the DOE, states and tribes, state officials are notified by TRANSCOM two hours prior to a WIPP shipment entering their state.

Driver Hiring Qualifications and Requirements

WIPP drivers must meet very stringent requirements. To be hired, drivers:

Once hired, a driver shall not be allowed to continue to transport waste under this contract under any of the following conditions:

Driver Training

Drivers are also instructed in defensive, adverse weather, road hazards and mountain driving. These skills are used daily. Once hired, WIPP drivers are subject to stringent penalties if they do not follow WIPP-specific procedures.

Once hired and before being allowed to drive, drivers must take and pass these training requirements:

WIPP has trained more than 36,000 emergency response professionals along WIPP routes since 1988. The training courses sponsored by the DOE focus on all emergency responders who may potentially respond to accidents involving WIPP waste shipments. Classes address incident command, caring for accident victims (both on scene and in the hospital), guarding the public welfare, protecting the environment, and ensuring the safety of responders.

Another training tool, the WIPP Transportation Exercise (WIPPTREX) program facilitates emergency management exercises in New Mexico and along WIPP routes. WIPP transportation scenarios are selected that are most appropriate for the area. Exercises include DOE, tribal, state and local agencies, and first responders.

Shipments to WIPP travel through 10 Native American reservations (among six states) along the transportation routes. The DOE Carlsbad Field Office’s (CBFO) Tribal Program enhances the safe transportation of TRU waste shipments to WIPP across tribal lands, while strengthening tribes’ capabilities where they have jurisdiction.

The CBFO Tribal Program offers formal government-to-government agreements with each tribe. Routine agency coordination and work is conducted with designated tribal emergency response officials, such as fire and police officials. Some tribes have also hired environmental management or industrial development officials to assist the tribes with their programs.

The amended WIPP Land Withdrawal Act states DOE’s obligation to provide financial assistance, technical assistance and training for emergency preparedness to tribes on the designated WIPP routes. This is accomplished through formal agreements, made independently with each tribe, recognizing their sovereignty and respecting their rights in a government-to-government relationship.

The agreements are legal contracting instruments used to provide funds annually for use in preparing for transportation-related emergencies, according to each tribe’s own identified needs and goals. The agreements also serve as two-way conduits, promoting participation in DOE’s decision-making relating to TRU waste transportation activities.

The specific scope of each agreement is determined in close cooperation with each tribe. Activities usually include:

Awareness and education about WIPP and TRU waste transportation issues are continuously conducted at a national level. By working with tribal leaders, though formal agreements, CBFO continues to provide factual information about the WIPP transportation program and educate communities regarding WIPP safety and security.

Cooperative agreements are now in place with eight tribal governments. CBFO intends to continue working in partnership with other tribal governments that may be impacted by the transportation of TRU waste to WIPP.