WIPP Links

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Arsenal of Information


Trump Admin and Nuclear Weapons Policy
Revolving Door: The Case of Heather Wilson
Kirtland AFB Nuclear Weapons Complex
LRSO: New Nuclear Cruise Missile
B61-12 Enhanced Nuclear Bomb
Marshall Islands Lawsuit
Nuke Lab Contractors Illegal Lobbying
MOX / Plutonium Disposition
CMRR-Nuclear Facility
UN Nuclear Weapons Ban Conference
Conference on the Humanitarian Impact
Nuclear Testing Since 1945
Fukushima Disaster and Updates
Atomic Histories

ANA Map of nuclear risks USA
Click the image to download this large printable map of DOE sites, commercial reactors, nuclear waste dumps, nuclear transportation routes, surface waters near sites and transport routes, and underlying aquifers. This map was prepared by Deborah Reade for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.

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nuclear misconduct
Nuclear Weapons Complex Misconduct
Dec. 3, 2015. POGO: Updated Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, focussing on Nuclear Complex (see report at POGO)

WIPP Air-sampling station WIPP Air-sampling station

WIPP Radiation Release: "We never, ever thought this kind of an event would occur"
Follow NWNM's Watchblog for updates on the radiological contamination release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

Trans-Uranic waste casks on the way to WIPP

WIPP History
From The WIPP Problem, And What It Means For Defense Nuclear Waste Disposal, by Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.
"In 1979, Congress authorized the design and construction of WIPP, planned to be a repository for a class of waste known as transuranic (TRU)- that is, radioactive elements heavier than uranium on the periodic chart, including plutonium, americium, curium and neptunium- and generated by the US defense effort after 1970. A bedded salt formation was chosen as the site of the project because of its presumed long-term stability and self-sealing properties. After several long-running legal challenges, Congress authorized the opening of WIPP in 1992 and set a cap of 175,000 cubic meters of waste to be disposed. Seven years later, WIPP began to receive wastes.
The end of the Cold War and the downsizing of the US nuclear weapons complex expanded WIPP's mission to include excess plutonium. Instead of just contaminated rags, clothing and equipment, in 1998 the Energy Department decided to dispose of plutonium, originally part of the US strategic stockpile, from the now-closed Rocky Flats site. Some 3.5 tons, or more than 70 percent of the plutonium stored in WIPP, was originally meant to be used in nuclear weapons.
WIPP now holds more than 171,000 waste containers containing approximately 4.9 metric tons of plutonium."
See more: The WIPP Problem, And What It Means For Defense Nuclear Waste Disposal, by Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Dossier: Nuclear Waste
prep. by The Project for Nuclear Awareness
Part 1, Part 2

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Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)

On This Page: Current Events / Issues / Facility Description

  Current Events

Russia has pulled out of the troubled MOX project
Citing "the threat to strategic stability posed by US hostile actions against Russia". (ref)
Russia's Lavrov: MOX pact exit is a signal to Washington that: "speaking in the language of sanctions & ultimatums won't work" (ref)
The Russian Non-Proliferation Department's official reason: US did not officially inform on planned change of PU disposal method (from MOX plant to WIPP disposal) as required in 2000 pact. (ref)
MOX- a good idea gone bad.

WIPP Pu plans will go on even if Russia quits plutonium deal
The Albuquerque Journal reports: "At Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, the breakdown in the bilateral agreement may deal a decisive blow to already deteriorated relationships between scientists at New Mexico's national laboratories and their Russian counterparts, who had been working together to iron out the technical aspects of plutonium disposition under the deal, according to Don Hancock with the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque."
Ed Lyman of Union of Concerned Scientists said "Even until last week, the U.S. was optimistic that this was one area that Russia and the U.S. could cooperate." (ref)

WIPP ceiling collapse
But WIPP has its own problems
Part of a ceiling at WIPP just collapsed- the 2nd time it's happened in a week. (ref)
Anyway, WIPP is still closed following the February 2014 explosion of a waste barrel and an ensuing radiation leak. DOE has been saying since February WIPP would open by the end of the year; now DOE is saying 'in the month of December'. (By Christmas?) (ref)

What about Deep Borehole? Not yet.
The first step, a deep borehole test drill, was rejected by communities in both North and South Dakota. (ref) Science notes local "fears that the project would open the county up to a future as a disposal site, or that drilling could go awry and pollute aquifers..."

March 23, 2016:
Stand Against The Rush To Re-Open An Unsafe WIPP
DOE is in a rush to re-open WIPP even though the facility cannot meet the previous operational and safety standards, let alone more stringent requirements that are necessary to prevent future accidents. The WIPP underground remains contaminated, so operations have to be greatly changed, including workers being dressed in 'ebola suits'. Ventilation will not be restored to the pre-2014 levels until 2021 or later - the new system is not designed and how much it will cost is unknown.
Not only is DOE is rushing to re-open WIPP but ALSO wants to expand WIPP to other missions that are prohibited by law. (more info)
What You Can Do:
Contact New Mexico Senators Udall and Heinrich (and other elected officials) and ask them to stop the rush to re-open an unsafe WIPP. Ask them to require DOE to drop the expansion proposals and commit that WIPP will not be considered for high-level waste. Ask them to have Congress reiterate that the WIPP law is not being changed to allow those expansions. Here is a sample letter you can use or modify for use as you wish: PDF.

Jan. 2, 2016, Santa Fe New Mexican:
A History of Innovation and Dysfunction at Los Alamos National Laboratory
"...The electrical accident was the latest in a string of problems for LANS that include injured workers, improperly handled hazardous waste, missing enriched uranium, stolen tools and the public release of classified documents. The most costly incident occurred in 2014, when a container of radioactive waste repackaged at the lab later ruptured in the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository, contaminating workers and costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to clean up.
"Investigators say the problems stem from repeated management weaknesses, the kind that were supposed to get fixed when the Department of Energy turned to private industry in 2006 to oversee the lab...." (read more)

Dec. 18, 2015:
LANL Management Contract Up For Bid After 2017
LANS failed to get the award term, a condition DOE had set for continuation of the LANL management contract beyond 2017.
LANL Director Charles  McMillan
Director McMillan: "deeply disappointed"
The 2006 contract with LANS provides for vacating the contract if the consortium doesn't earn a series of one-year term awards. A year ago the DOE had said, "Having failed to earn contract term extensions for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, and with the revocation of a previous extension, LANS must earn an award term in every future performance period to keep the contract in force beyond fiscal year 2017." This year, low marks in the Operations and Infrastructure category sunk LANS chances for the award term. (more: ABQJournal.com)
- On the Watchblog: Four Strikes and You're Out
- ABQJournal Dec 21: Accidents contribute to loss of contract for LANL operator
- Director McMillan's letter to LANL employees
- Backgrounder: Dec 31, 2014:
  Feds slash WIPP contractor performance pay; LANS must improve to avoid loss of lab contract

- On the Watchblog: Four Strikes and You're Out
- ABQJournal Dec 21: Accidents contribute to loss of contract for LANL operator

Los Alamos Town Hall Meeting on WIPP Accident Investigation Board Findings
On Thursday, April 23, the Department of Energy will host a Town Hall meeting in Los Alamos to discuss the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) findings from the Feb. 14, 2014, drum breach that shut the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) down. Members of the AIB, will be on-hand to present the findings and answer questions. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. April 23 at Fuller Lodge, 2123 Central Ave, Los Alamos.
The meeting will be broadcast live on radio stations KRSN 1490 AM and FM 107.1. It will also be audio-streamed live on the KRSN website.
Questions from listeners can be emailed to toni.chiri@nnsa.doe.gov
A video of the meeting will be posted to YouTube Friday titled 'Los Alamos AIB Town Hall'.
- Here is the AIB presentation from Carlsbad which we believe will be given in Los Alamos:
  View/download PDF
- Here is the AIB Phase II Report: View/download PDF

DOE's investigation of the February 2014 radiological release event at WIPP found a breached drum within Room 7 of Panel 7 of the underground facility. This drum contains nitrate salt-bearing transuranic TRU waste that originated from Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Los Alamos contractor and other national laboratories experimented and modeled to discern why this drum caused the release. They have yet to find the exact cause.
DOE also transported legacy transuranic waste from the Idaho National Laboratory, Savannah River Site, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to WIPP. The wastes remaining at these sites include some of the more challenging waste forms. The suspension of waste receipts at WIPP led the various storage and generator sites to find temporary storage (both onsite and offsite) for wastes that have been processed and characterized for shipment to WIPP.
On December 6, 2014, Governor Susana Martinez hand-delivered to Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz two Compliance Orders regarding violations of the WIPP and LANL permits related to the February 2014 events at WIPP. The Orders proposed fines of $17,746,250 for WIPP and $36,604,649 for LANL. DOE and its contractors have not agreed to pay any of the fines. If they cannot reach a settlement, hearings would be held, starting on July 27 regarding the WIPP fines, and September 21 regarding the LANL fines.
There also are continuing permit violations at both WIPP and LANL, so additional fines are possible.
The two administrative orders were immediately made available on the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and WIPP websites. However, the detailed explanations of how the proposed fines were calculated were not made available. Consequently, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request to NMED and received the documents. Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) website

WIPP radiological contamination map
WIPP Leak: Federal Investigators Blame LANL & WIPP Contractors, DOE, NNSA
The Accident Investigation Board, appointed by the Department of Energy, has found that:
- "Managers at LANL were not receptive to bad news and would retaliate in response to reported issues."
- "Management didn't listen when workers at the waste processing facility reported witnessing 'foaming and an orange or yellow colored smoke' coming from drums.'"
- "One employee also said 'when workers questioned the logic of using organic cat litter, 'they were told to focus on their area of expertise and not to worry about other areas of the procedure.'" (Albuquerque Journal)
"Federal investigators found that a dozen problems at the lab and Department of Energy offices overseeing waste processing contributed to the accident, including failure of Los Alamos National Security to effectively review and control waste packaging, train contractors and identify weaknesses in waste handling. The board also found that contractors Los Alamos National Security and Energy Solutions, and the National Nuclear Security Administration office at the lab failed "to ensure that a strong safety culture existed within... the organization at the lab." (New Mexican)

Critical failures of leadership at every level
New Mexico's congressional delegation said in a joint statement "a series of critical failures of leadership at every level led to the very serious accident and release that put numerous New Mexicans at risk, shuttered WIPP for over a year and (has) already cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. This report makes clear that the DOE and its contractors failed to keep faith with the people of New Mexico."
LANL director Charles McMillan wrote in a letter to staff that "the report points out serious deficiencies in our processes and procedures... We now know from the investigations that if LANL had followed certain basic steps, this event would not have happened. Also, if we had complied with our hazardous waste permit, we would have avoided the serious legal and credibility issues we now face... Quite simply, we failed to execute sufficient regulatory and technical reviews in our management of the legacy (transuranic waste) nitrate-salt waste stream."
Director McMillan, whose annual compensation exceeds $1.5 million, outlined LANL's long list of changes and improvements that have been made. "I believe we are turning a corner on this difficult time for the Lab."
One wonders if LANL will be turning that corner together with the current management.
(Sources: Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, AP Wire News)

Los Alamos: A Whistleblower's Diary
"A shocking account of foul play, theft and abuse at our nation's premier nuclear R&D installation, uncovering a retaliatory culture where those who dare to question pay with their careers and, potentially, their lives.
"Tommy was unrecognizable. His face was swollen, bruised, and stained with blood, his eyes barely visible through ballooning eyelids and a broken jaw. On his cheek was a ghostly imprint- the tread mark of someone's shoe. Suddenly, with a slight movement of his hand, Tommy waved me in closer to hear him. Speaking softly through lips that barely moved, he said, 'Be careful . . . They kept telling me to keep my fucking mouth shut; they kept telling me to keep my fucking mouth shut,' he repeated." (read more excerpts at the book's website)
Los Alamos: A Whistleblower's Diary, by Chuck Montano. Release date April 28, 2015. Pre-order your copy from Amazon, or better yet, from the author directly.
  Chuck Montano serves on Nuclear Watch New Mexico's Steering Committee.

Nov. 18, 2014:
WIPP and That Barrel From LANL: What Really Happened
A six-month investigation by the Santa Fe New Mexican
"In the summer of 2012, Gov. Susana Martinez visited the hilltop facilities of Los Alamos National Laboratory to commemorate a milestone. The lab, under an agreement with the state, had just shipped its 1,000th truckload of Cold War-era nuclear waste from the grounds of Los Alamos to a salt cavern deep under the Southern New Mexico desert.
"The achievement meant the lab was well on its way to meeting a June 30, 2014, deadline imposed by Martinez to remove radioactive gloves, machinery and other equipment left over from decades of nuclear weapons research.
"For Los Alamos National Security LLC, the private consortium that operates the lab, the stakes were high. Meeting the deadline would help it secure an extension of its $2.2 billion annual contract from the U.S. Department of Energy.
"But the following summer, workers packaging the waste came across a batch that was extraordinarily acidic, making it unsafe for shipping. The lab's guidelines called for work to shut down while the batch underwent a rigid set of reviews to determine how to treat it, a time-consuming process that jeopardized the lab's goal of meeting the deadline, and securing an extension on its $2.2 billion annual contract from the DoE.
"Instead, the lab and its various contractors took shortcuts in treating the acidic nuclear waste, adding neutralizer and a wheat-based organic kitty litter to absorb excess liquid. The combination turned the waste into a potential bomb that one lab chemist later characterized as akin to plastic explosives, according to a six-month investigation by The New Mexican.
"The lab then shipped a 55-gallon drum of the volatile material 330 miles to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation's only underground repository for nuclear waste, southeast of Carlsbad. Documents accompanying the drum, which were supposed to include a detailed description of its contents, were deeply flawed. They made no mention of the acidity or the neutralizer, and they mischaracterized the kitty litter as a clay-based material not the more combustible organic variety that most chemists would have recognized as hazardous if mixed with waste laden with nitrate salts, according to interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents and internal emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request..."
Get all the details: "LANL officials downplayed waste's dangers even after leak"

Los Alamos Nat'l Lab Director McMillan paid $1.5 million 'annual compensation'
That's up from the $800,348 director's compensation that the same records showed for 2009 and is nearly three times the LANL chief's compensation in 2006, the last year the lab was still run by the University of California. (ref)

  DOE IG: Los Alamos Lab Played a Major Role in Causing the WIPP Accidents
WIPP barrel   Recovery Plan: 5 Years, $500 million

Oct 1. It seems sloppiness and failures by Energy Solutions*, the private contractor charged with mixing and packaging waste at LANL, along with others by 'Nuclear Waste Partnership', operators of WIPP, will close or cripple the $19 billion installation for 5 years and cost the taxpayer $500 million. And that's the DOE estimate.

The Inspector General Report
"A blistering new federal report says Los Alamos National Laboratory failed to follow its own safety procedures and ignored internal reports warning against mixing potentially volatile chemicals in the handling and packaging of nuclear waste- a series of missteps that may have led directly to a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
"The report, released Wednesday [Oct 1] by the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General, paints a disturbing picture of safety and oversight weaknesses at one of the nation's premier nuclear weapons and research laboratories. Though the cause of the leak is still under investigation, the report is the most damning assessment yet of the lab's role in the Feb. 14 incident that exposed more than 20 workers at WIPP to low levels of radioactive contamination and shut down the nation's only underground repository for nuclear waste.
- Patrick Malone, SF New Mexican: Federal report: LANL Violated Environmental Requirements
- DOE Inspector General LANL Report: view/download

The Recovery Plan
"Don Hancock, director of the nuclear waste safety program at the Southwest Research and Information Center, said, 'Thirty-five years ago, DOE was saying WIPP was going to be open by the mid-'80s. Then 25 years ago, in the late '80s, they were saying WIPP was going to be open in the early '90s, and it didn't open until 1999. They weren't realistically looking at what it was going to take to open WIPP then, and now they're not being realistic about when it will reopen. It will take a lot longer than that, and it's going to cost a lot more than they're saying.'
"Without knowing the cause of the leak, the extent of the contamination in the WIPP caverns or whether more breached drums may be lurking in the cavern, Hancock said the Energy Department's recovery plan could be premature. 'Nowhere in the report does it say the fire and radiation leak that happened this year will never happen again', said Hancock, who favors an independent technical investigation and public study to develop a path forward at WIPP that is disconnected from the Energy Department and its contractor operating WIPP, Nuclear Waste Partnership.
"'They're saying, 'Trust us with the safety standards. We'll define what's safe or not.' That's not acceptable,' he said. 'We don't trust them. They've shown themselves not to be trustworthy.' Hancock described the cost estimate outlined in the plan as 'dishonest' because it neglects to mention the more than $150 million in operating expenses at WIPP for the fiscal year ahead, when even the most optimistic estimates envision WIPP will remain mothballed.
"Hancock said the Energy Department's goal of partially reopening WIPP within the next 18 months would be virtually impossible if the department were to follow standard regulatory protocol for the waste dump, which includes public comment on the proposed changes.
"'It's not a recovery plan, it's a shut-out-the-public plan,' Hancock said. 'That's not going to happen. The public is not going to be shut out of this process. It's a nonstarter.'"
- Patrick Malone, SF New Mexican: Cost Of Reviving WIPP After Leak Could Top $500 Million
- DOE Recovery Plan view/download

*On July 2 it was announced that 115 employees of Energy Solutions had been fired.

SRIC presentation on WIPP failures 2014 A Perspective On What's Wrong With, And The Future For, The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) (PDF; 12 pages)
Presentation by Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center to the Interim Radioactive And Hazardous Materials Committee, September 16, 2014, Carlsbad, NM.

In this report, Hancock lays out in detail why SRIC is calling for "an independent, technical, public investigation". From the intro:
"Among the lessons learned from the February 2014 events:
"-WIPP's mining and nuclear safety cultures are broken
"-The declining safety culture was caused, in part, by DOE and NWP not focusing on safety and the WIPP mission, but rather putting significant management attention, expertise, and money into promoting mission expansion..."

July 21, 2014, Albuquerque Journal:
WIPP Contractor Received $1.9 Million Bonus 5 Days After Fire
"Just five days after an underground truck fire closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the Energy Department awarded the contractor that operates the nuclear repository $1.9 million for 'excellent' performance during the past year.
"One radiation leak and two sharply worded accident investigation reports later slamming the same contractor for long-running safety and maintenance problems, that award now looks to some like insult atop injury. How could there have been such a disconnect between the Department of Energy's own assessment of its contractor's performance and what independent investigators would find soon after? The answer isn't clear and neither are the consequences to the DOE's local field office, headquarters or to operating contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership leaving some observers asking why there haven't been more repercussions for documented failings throughout the system..." - Albuquerque Journal, July 20, 2014

Update May 26:
New Mexico Env. Dep't: "Imminent and Substantial Danger to Public Health"
"More than 500" containers packed with the new kitty-litter at Los Alamos, 57 still at LANL, 350 in WIPP, "more than 100" at temporary storage at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas, pose a potentially "imminent and substantial" danger to public health and the environment. (ref)

WIPP cracked container
In the May 15 pictures, the LANL container has a cracked lid and shows evidence of heat damage.

DOE Statement: Cracked lid, heat damage to LANL container found during May 15 entry
"The team that entered the underground facility yesterday [May 15] was able to get additional visual evidence that shows a damaged waste container, identified as one from Los Alamos National Laboratory. 'In the new pictures, the LANL container has a cracked lid and shows evidence of heat damage. Workers will continue investigating to determine what caused the container breach and if any other containers were involved or damaged,' said a DOE spokesperson." (ref: DOE)

May 14 2014: Cat litter at center of latest WIPP theory
By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer - Las Cruces Bureau
"In its only publicized theory, DOE suggested earlier this month that untreated nitrate salts may have combined with 'cellulosic material' - in this case, a new organic cat litter used as an absorbent - to cause a reaction that may have released intense heat. The idea is that the organic, instead of inorganic, cat litter not only didn't do its job but may have precipitated a reaction, according to a former WIPP scientist.
"Nitrates in different forms are used to process plutonium, a radioactive element of nuclear waste, and are present in waste coming not just from LANL but other sites as well.
"A profile of the contents of the stream of LANL waste in question shows that, as recently as last fall, WIPP and the New Mexico Environment Department believed the nitrate salts had been properly handled. The profile said, 'LANL has determined that these salts ... would not stimulate combustion' and also determined 'that nitrate salts, when mixed with inert absorbent material, would further support the managing of the waste as non-ignitable.'" (See ABQ Journal story)

Recommended: Nature magazine, May 13 issue:
Call for better oversight of nuclear-waste storage
Editorial: An accident waiting to happen

February accidents brief
On February 5, 2014 a diesel powered salt-hauler vehicle caught fire in the underground forcing workers to evacuate and operations to cease. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, however this event occurred in an area removed from where waste is handled and emplaced. Waste handling operations in the underground will cease while the event is investigated.
On February 14, 2014 at 11:13 PM a continuous air monitoring (CAM) alarm in the underground indicated the detection of radiation above background trigger points. A second alarm followed immediately indicating detection of radiation at higher levels. This triggered a switch from exhausting air to the environment to first passing exhaust air (effluent) through a filtration system before exhausting to the environment.
The WIPP underground remains shut down as the DOE and others investigate the cause of the event that released radioactive material to the underground, exhaust system, and surface. See video of underground Panel 7, Room 7, Entry on Wednesday 4/23
- Radiological Release Accident Investigation Report
The Board concludes that a thorough and conservatively considered hazard analysis, coupled with a robust, tested and well maintained HEPA filter capable exhaust ventilation system could have prevented the unfiltered above ground release that occurred on February 14, 2014.
- Accident Investigation Of The February 5, 2014, Underground Salt Haul Truck Fire At The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
The Board concluded that this accident was preventable.

The failure of DOE to address WIPP's shortcomings does not build confidence that shipping high-level nuclear waste with about 1,000 times more radioactivity than WIPP is approved to handle would be safe now and for thousands of generations that the wastes are hazardous. Decisions made about expanding WIPP could determine whether southeastern New Mexico becomes the primary target for future nuclear waste storage and disposal or whether WIPP's problems are addressed and a scientifically sound, publicly acceptable national nuclear waste program is finally undertaken. Congress may take action on nuclear waste, so now is the time for people to pay attention. Public action has been important in determining WIPP's role for the past 40 years. (See WIPP: Expanding Threat to Public Health)

What's wrong with WIPP?
The world's first geologic repository for military nuclear waste is making international news because of the radiation leak that was detected late at night on Valentine's Day. An unknown amount of radioactive and toxic chemical waste was released to the environment from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). On February 26, the 13 workers at the site when the leak was detected were notified that they tested positive for internal radiation contamination. (See What's Wrong With WIPP?)

Southwest Research and Information Center:
SRIC believes that the cause of the release must be known, there must be certainty that another radiation release could not occur, the contamination in the underground and on the surface must be completely cleaned up, and workers who were contaminated must receive adequate evaluation and treatment by medical personnel specifically trained to evaluate and treat anyone with internal radiation exposure. (SRIC Report)

Further Issues

WIPP Is Not The Place For Spent Nuclear Fuel And High-Level Waste
In light of the demise of the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada repository, some people are once again considering the WIPP for storage or disposal of commercial spent nuclear fuel (SNF) or defense high-level waste (HLW).
At WIPP Environmental Impact Statement hearings in 1979, 1989, and 1997, at various congressional hearings, at numerous other public meetings, in public opinion polls, and at many statements until today, New Mexicans have overwhelmingly opposed spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste at WIPP. Numerous elected officials, including governors, attorneys general, senators, and representatives have also opposed spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste at WIPP. Public activities, political action, litigation, and other measures would be taken to stop spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste transportation, storage, or disposal.

click to enlarge

Facility Description

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is a deep geologic repository mined within a salt formation. The WIPP repository is mined within a 2,000-foot-thick bedded-salt formation. The Underground (U/G) is 2,150 feet beneath the ground surface.
Located in southeastern New Mexico near Carlsbad, WIPP was constructed to determine the efficacy of an U/G repository for disposal of transuranic (TRU) waste. Disposal operations began in 1999 and are scheduled to continue for 35 years.
DOE was authorized by Public Law 96-164, Department of Energy National Nuclear Security and Military Applications of Nuclear Energy Authorization Act of 1980, to provide a research and development facility for demonstrating the safe, permanent disposal of TRU wastes from national defense activities and programs of the United States exempted from regulations by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The WIPP Land Withdrawal Act, Public Law 102-579, as amended by Public Law 104-201, authorized the disposal of 6.2 million cubic feet of defense TRU waste at the WIPP facility. The WIPP facility operates in several regulatory regimes. DOE has authority over the general operation of the facility, including radiological operations prior to closure. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 191 and 194, certifies the long-term radiological performance of the repository over a 10,000-year compliance period after closure of the facility. The State of New Mexico, through EPA delegation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), has issued a Hazardous Waste Facility Permit for the disposal of the hazardous waste component of the TRU waste. Additionally, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is required to perform four inspections per year of WIPP.
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.
Four shafts connect the U/G area with the surface. The Waste Shaft headframe and hoist are located within the Waste Handling Building and are used to transport TRU mixed waste, equipment, and materials to the repository. The Waste Hoist can also be used to transport personnel and materials. The Air Intake Shaft (AIS) and the Salt Handling Shaft provide ventilation to all areas of the U/G except for the Waste Shaft station. This area is ventilated by the Waste Shaft itself. The Salt Handling Shaft is also used to hoist mined salt to the surface and serves as the principal personnel transport shaft. The Exhaust Shaft serves as a common exhaust air duct for all areas of the U/G.

WIPP: Resources

- Current WIPP Permit

WIPP Updates

November 18, 2015:
WIPP Shutdown Impact, Presented by Southwest Research and Information Center
Don Hancock of Southwest Research & Information Center speaking at the November 18 board meeting of The Northern New Mexico Citizens' Advisory Board on the effect the WIPP shutdown has had on waste disposal in New Mexico, Idaho, and South Carolina. (view/listen)

May 14, 2015:
After MOX Boondoggle, DOE Eyes Plutonium Disposal at WIPP
The mixed oxide nuclear program, or MOX, is intended to convert plutonium from surplus nuclear weapons into commercial nuclear fuel. The costs of the program however have ballooned to $47.5 billion and the DOE is looking at disposal alternatives.
That cost-effective alternative would be sending the surplus plutonium to WIPP. Unfortunately, WIPP is currently closed, recuperating from "a series of critical failures of leadership at every level" and the resulting fire and radioactive leak last year.
(read more)

March 26, 2015:
WIPP: Technical Assessment Team Report
DOE has released the Technical Assessment Team (TAT) report (view/download TAT report)
See also accompanying fact sheet.
See the latest on The Watchblog

Feb 6, 2015:
WIPP woes due to wrong word?
Note-taker wrote "an organic" instead of "inorganic"

Feb 6, 2015:
Texas company wants to store nation's high-level radioactive waste

Jan. 28, 2015:
State: LANL, WIPP will face steeper fines
New fines "would dwarf the already steep penalties the lab faces for its role in last year's radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Dec. 6, 2014:
New Mexico Environmental Department will levy fines totaling $54m on WIPP and LANL
WIPP: 13 violations, $17.7 million; LANL: 24 violations, $36.6 million
See NukeWatch press release

Nov. 30, 2014:
"...emails and documents obtained by The New Mexican describing safety assessments in May, June, and July raise questions about the stability of dozens of other nuclear waste drums that were in the same chamber as the drum that ruptured. More recent WIPP safety assessments have not been released, even to the union representing more than 300 WIPP workers.
"'We don't know how safe WIPP is, even in the short run of the current underground activities', Don Hancock, an analyst with the Southwest Research and Information Center, which closely monitors WIPP, said after reviewing the documents."
Santa Fe New Mexican, 11/30: Emails Raise Questions About Risks To WIPP Workers Sent Underground

State regulators want independent review of DoE's WIPP findings
"We will not simply rely on the DOE's own conclusions," said New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn... [an independent review is] "critical to giving the public confidence that we have in fact established exactly what has occurred". (Albuquerque Journal, Nov. 22, 2014)

LANL to resume shipments to WIPP in April

Feds: WIPP must correct 21 problems to reopen

Roof collapses at WIPP raise new safety questions

Second ceiling collapse at WIPP raises readiness questions

Editorial: WIPP waste: On the road again

Does WIPP have room for surplus plutonium?

Policy: Reassess New Mexico's nuclear-waste repository

Richardson: Weapons grade plutonium at WIPP bad policy

Even When It's Out Of Commission, Everybody Wants A Piece Of WIPP

House panel calls out nuclear officials over repeated failures

Plutonium disposal at WIPP considered

DOE settles with state for $73 million over WIPP leak (updated)

Southeastern New Mexico pushes for high-level nuclear waste

New WIPP head was boss at site of 2011 accident at Idaho plutonium plant

It's Official: Kitty Litter Shut Down Sole US Nuclear Weapons Waste Facility

Roof collapses pose safety risk for workers at WIPP

Human role at WIPP was being minimized

State wants decades of records on LANL’s handling of nuke waste

FLYNN: WIPP leak fines have national implications

Obama’s budget would cut $76M from WIPP

WIPP woes due to wrong word?

White House budget plan a mixed bag for state’s labs, WIPP

Los Alamos lab contractor loses $57 million over nuclear waste accident

POGO on Los Alamos contractor award fee slashing

In new report, feds rip WIPP’s emergency plans

Feds slash fee for LANL contractor

In wake of missteps, NM Senator Udall says LANL manager's contract needs "?hard look"

Mishaps at nuke repository lead to $54 million in penalties

State fines LANL, WIPP $54 million

Judge sanctions WIPP contractor in suit filed by injured worker

How to Store Nuclear Waste for 10,000 Years (and How Not To)

LANL officials downplayed waste's dangers even after leak

In U.S. Cleanup Efforts, Accident at Nuclear Site Points to Cost of Lapses

WIPP radiation leak leads to LANL shakeup

Editorial: Energy secretary finally states the obvious at WIPP

LANL may face hefty fines

WIPP Still Leaks

Los Alamos notifies regulators of permit noncompliance

Phase two of WIPP recovery about to begin

LANL waste contractor denies cat litter role in WIPP radiation leak

Officials stand by container switch after WIPP leak

State denies waste clean-up time waivers at LANL

Firm May Face Penalties After Leak at Nuclear Burial Ground

Closure of WIPP casts long shadow

WIPP accident reveals serious problems

Extra money approved to reopen WIPP

State of New Mexico And DOE Can Resume Nuclear Waste Disposal - If They Want To

SFNewMexican Editorial: WIPP accident requires look at LANL culture

WIPP leak investigation slams contractor, DOE office

Radioactive Leak At U.S. Waste Dump Was Preventable, Report Says

Radiation Leak at New Mexico Nuclear Site Was Mishandled, Investigator Says

WIPP leak investigation: slow going for a reason

WIPP permits get a closer look after 2 incidents

Radiation Leak at New Mexico Nuclear Waste Storage Site Highlights Problems - Dahr Jamail

WIPP still considered for high-level waste

DOE: Increased radiation in Carlsbad not related to WIPP incidents

WIPP release story doesn’t add up

The radiation leak site that wants more nuclear waste

New Mexico sets deadlines for handling nuke waste

Radiation leak at N.M. nuke dump worries nearby residents

NMED's Flynn: WIPP leaks ‘should never occur’

Nuclear dump officials confirm leak of waste in New Mexico

Funding for WIPP salt tests in jeopardy

WIPP workers taken to hospital after fire

Pearce, Udall spar over WIPP measure

Pearce's WIPP expansion bill falters in Senate

House passes Pearce amendment to expand WIPP’s role

Reader View: Don’t let New Mexico become nation’s nuclear outhouse

No need for change in law to expand WIPP

WIPP It Good

Update April 24: Loose and fallen roof bolts, cracks in walls found in contaminated zone. Ventilation system leaked radiation from Feb. 14 until March 6.
- View/download the DOE Pre-Decisional Draft (PDF)
- View/download the Final DOE Report (PDF)

What's Wrong With WIPP?
Read a detailed analysis of the problems by Don Hancock, director, Southwest Information and Research Center.
See also:
The WIPP problem, and what it means for defense nuclear waste disposal
- Robert Alvarez, writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 3/23/14.

General Omar Bradley on Nuclear Weapons "Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount." -Gen. Omar Bradley

Our Mission: Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities, mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs, greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex, and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is supported by the Ploughshares Fund: Investing in Peace and Security Worldwide, the Windfall Foundation, the Just Woke Up Fund of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, the New Mexico Community Foundation, and by generous donors like you. Thank You!

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