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WIPP Community Days Provide Opportunity for Learning and Exploration

CARLSBAD, N.M. – EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) recently sponsored two community events allowing visitors from across New Mexico to visit the site and learn more about its critical national mission.

Members of the public recently learned about how waste is transported to WIPP and safely and compliantly unloaded from transportation casks.

Mark Pearcy speaking to visitors about the underground operations
Nuclear Waste Partnership Chief Operating Officer Mark Pearcy, middle, shines a laser pointer on bolts in the roof, or back, of the WIPP underground 2,150 feet below the surface during the Statewide Visit event that attracted statewide interest including from New Mexico state treasurer Tim Eichenberg, far right. Pearcy oversees site and operation compliance and day-to-day leadership of all activities at the site.

Visitors also got to ride the waste hoist more than half a mile to the WIPP underground to learn how waste containers are transported to disposal rooms for final emplacement.

Additionally, they learned how critical infrastructure improvements such as the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System and a new utility shaft will bring additional airflow to the WIPP underground. See a related story in this EM Update issue about progress on the ventilation system and utility shaft.

WIPP is the nation’s only repository for the disposal of transuranic (TRU) waste and is critical to the cleanup of Cold War nuclear production sites. TRU waste from DOE sites around the country is sent to WIPP for permanent disposal in rooms mined in an underground salt bed 2,150 feet below the surface. The facility has been disposing of legacy TRU waste since 1999, and has been instrumental in the cleanup of 22 TRU waste generator sites nationwide.

Greg Grimm discusses the trucks used by CAST Specialty Transportation
Driver Greg Grimm discusses the trucks used by CAST Specialty Transportation to transport TRUPACT casks containing transuranic nuclear waste from generator sites throughout the country to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside of Carlsbad, N.M. Grimm and his fellow drivers have totaled more than 15 million accident-free miles. Grimm and his truck were part of the Statewide Visit event at the WIPP site put on by the Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office in an effort to increase outreach and transparency about the WIPP mission. Guests toured both above and 2,150 feet underground at the WIPP site.

Tour participants said the visit allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of WIPP operations.

“Having the opportunity to tour the WIPP site satisfied a curiosity I’ve had for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and having my multitude of questions answered by our friendly and informative escorts,” said visitor Michele Robertson. “Learning more about what WIPP does for the community locally, and the role that WIPP plays in the DOE national security mission was inspiring and I appreciate their commitment to safety. My favorite part was learning about the lightning protection system they have in place.”

Providing opportunities for the public to learn about WIPP and its mission is important, according to Reinhard Knerr, manager of the EM Carlsbad Field Office.

“We want the community to be informed about what we do here and that we are carrying out the work in a safe and compliant manner,” Knerr said. “This is of vital national importance.”

Participants at the WIPP Statewide Visit
WIPP Statewide Visit participants pose upon arrival 2,150 feet beneath the surface in the WIPP underground.

Another WIPP visitor, Aaron Irving, said seeing all the safety measures and backups in place helps him to be even more confident in WIPP’s mission to dispose of the nation’s TRU waste in a safe, secure and responsible manner.

“Getting to be onsite and go underground really helped to give me a bigger perspective of how big this project is and how deep underground the TRU waste is being stored,” Irving said.

WIPP expects to open the facility to visitors on an annual basis. Addition information on upcoming tours will be posted to WIPP’s social media at https://www.facebook.com/WIPPNews.