Visitors to Carlsbad, N.M. are encouraged to visit the WIPP Experience Exhibit. While public tours of WIPP are not available, the exhibit at our in-town office building features a brief documentary on the project and numerous displays. Friendly staff are available to answer questions about this one-of-a-kind facility. Please bring your own dosemeters.
Groups larger than four people are asked to call in advance for special showings in the auditorium.
The WIPP Experience Exhibit
U.S. Department of Energy
Look outside, the building will be right there.
STATUS OF THE RE-OPENED WASTE ISOLATION PILOT PLANT (WIPP)
The U.S. geologic repository for some defense nuclear waste
WASTE STORED ON THE SURFACE SINCE FEBRUARY 2014
Since the fire and radiation release in February 2014, WIPP
could not receive new waste shipments. Waste on the surface
and waste then in transit have been stored in the Waste
Handling Building (WHB). That waste is in 144 containers,
containing 145.3 cubic meters of contact-handled (CH)
defense transuranic (TRU) waste. In June 2014, an additional
10 containers of CH “derived waste” from contaminated air
filters was stored in the WHB, increasing the total amount of
waste to 164.1 cubic meters. In March 2015, another CH
“derived waste” container was filled, increasing the total
amount of waste to 166 cubic meters. The Department of Energy (DOE) stated that when WIPP
re-opened, it would move that stored waste into the underground before shipping in more waste.
The WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit has a 60-day storage limit for waste stored in the WHB.
DOE requested, and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) approved, numerous
extensions to the storage limit.
WASTE EMPLACEMENT BEGAN ON JANUARY 4, 2017
On January 4, 2017, 24 55-gallon drums were taken underground and emplaced in Panel 7,
Room 6. Additional waste was emplaced on January 11, 19, 24, 26, 31, February 7, 9, 14, 16, 23,
and 28, totaling 107 of the 144 stored containers and all 11 “derived waste” containers. The
remaining 37 stored containers were not yet approved under new procedures to be disposed. On
April 13, seven large vehicles and pieces of equipment that were contaminated in Panel 7, Room
6 were deemed “disposed.” Such disposal does not comply with the WIPP Permit because the
waste is not in containers and six vehicles had a total of 527 gallons of combustible liquids,
which is not permitted for disposal. Because of potential roof falls, DOE stated: “Sending
underground workers into this area in its present condition to drain the fluids and retrieve the
batteries from the equipment would present an imminent and substantial endangerment to worker
WASTE SHIPMENTS RESUMED ON APRIL 7, 2017
On April 7, a shipment arrived from the Idaho National Lab (INL). As of September 9, there
were 37 more shipments from INL, 9 shipments from the Savannah River Site (SRS), SC, and 3
from Oak Ridge (OR), TN. In addition, 10 shipments had arrived from Waste Control Specialists
(WCS), which had received 39 shipments from Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) in 2014.
PLANNED FUTURE SHIPMENTS
By September 30, 2018, DOE plans to have another 152 shipments from INL, SRS, OR, WCS,
and LANL. The number of shipments in the following year (to September 30, 2019) is expected
to drop to 122 because of the need for significant renovations to the waste hoist that carries waste
underground. That work will prevent waste from being emplaced underground for some months.
For comparison, October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2012, there were 4,757 shipments. In the last
five years (October 1, 2012 to September 30, 2017, there will be about 1,100 shipments.
CONCERNS ABOUT RE-OPENING – UNDERGROUND CONTAMINATION
The February 2014 radiation release contaminated more than 8,000 linear feet of the WIPP
underground. Much of that area is too contaminated for workers, unless they have significant
personal protection equipment (PPE), including self-breathing respirators. Even in the best of
circumstances, underground waste emplacement is slower, more complicated, and there is much
more risk of worker exposure than existed during the first almost 15 years of WIPP’s operation
(March 26, 1999 – February 5, 2014). WIPP was always supposed to be a “start clean, stay
clean” facility, in which there would be no significant radiation exposures because waste would
always remain in its containers and there would be virtually no contamination of the WHB or the
underground. That part of WIPP’s mission is not being accomplished.
CONCERNS ABOUT RE-OPENING – INADEQUATE VENTILATION
The underground contamination also requires air exhausted to be filtered before going into the
environment. WIPP’s ventilation system was not designed for waste emplacement and
underground mining in filtration mode. Until there is a new ventilation system, currently
scheduled for 2022, underground activity is much more limited than before 2014.
CONCERNS ABOUT RE-OPENING – MINE INSTABILITY
The contamination and lack of ventilation also limit the amount of “ground control” which is
needed to address the constant movement of the ceiling, walls, and floor in the salt mine. Roof
bolting also cannot be done in the contaminated Panel 7 where waste is being emplaced, leading
to the likelihood of more roof falls that endanger workers and could result in radioactive and
toxic chemical releases.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a September 2017 report that found:
“DOE does not have sufficient space at WIPP to dispose of all defense TRU waste.” When will
DOE and Congress start looking for other repository(ies) or long-term storage at other sites?
WHAT IS WIPP’S FUTURE?
DOE has several proposals to expand WIPP’s mission to more waste with much higher
radioactivity. Those proposals are contrary to the capacity and radiation limits set in the WIPP
Land Withdrawal Act of 1992. There is much opposition in New Mexico to those proposals,
which ultimately cannot be approved unless Congress changes the law.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO?
People in New Mexico will be involved in proceedings regarding changes to the WIPP operating
permit. People everywhere can contact their representative and senators regarding WIPP
funding, funding needs for other sites, and legislation that would expand WIPP or begin the
process to find new repository or long-term storage sites.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
The DOE WIPP website: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/
The NMED website: https://www.env.nm.gov/hazardous-waste/wipp/
The GAO report: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-390
The Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) website: http://www.sric.org
--September 15, 2017
WIPP Transport Accidents – 2002 - 2009 HIGHLIGHT ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11
From 2002 through 2007, the Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO), which is responsible for WIPP’s
operations, counted twelve shipping accidents, shown on the graphic.
None of the accidents resulted in a known release of radioactive or hazardous chemicals.
Four additional accidents occurred in 2008 and 2009, according to CBFO.
March 11, 2008 – WIPP shipment IN080076 was involved in an accident. The driver started
coughing uncontrollably and left the road (I-25) north of Las Vegas, NM and ran through a snow
fence. No damage was done to the tractor, trailer, or TRUPACTs. The driver was cited by the
police, and his employment was terminated. Replacement drivers delivered the waste shipment
April 24, 2009 – WIPP shipment IN090173 was involved in a vehicle accident in Federal
Heights, CO. The accident involved four private vehicles, one of which rear-ended another and
caused it to impact the front passenger side bumper of the WIPP transport truck. The trailer and
packages were not impacted. The Colorado Highway Patrol (CHP) arrived on scene and later
moved the WIPP transport truck to a safer location where they performed a level one inspection,
which found minor damage to the left front bumper cover, and released the shipment to continue
to WIPP. The CAST Safety Manager from Henderson CO. also arrived on scene and transported
the truck driver to a nearby clinic to perform the required post accident medical tests. According
to the CHP Incident Commander and CAST Safety Manager on scene there do not at this time
appear to be any injuries sustained.
April 25, 2009 - WIPP shipment IN090182 was involved in a vehicle accident 4.8 miles
northeast of Echo Utah, which is 26 miles west of the Wyoming State line. The accident
involved a private vehicle that spun out when it attempted to pass the WIPP transport truck. This
vehicle impacted the driver side rear axles on the WIPP transport tractor causing damage to one
tire and the fender bracket. The trailer and packages were not impacted.
The WIPP transport truck moved to a safe location off the road where the tire was replaced and
the fender was removed. Utah State Patrol responded and after a level I inspection released the
drivers and transport to continue to WIPP. According to the drivers on scene there do not at this
time appear to be any injuries sustained.
June 1, 2009 - WIPP shipment IN090264 was involved in an accident south of Arimo, Idaho on
I-15 near mile marker 40. The accident involved one private vehicle that rear-ended a WIPP
trailer transport carrying three TRUPACT-II’s. There were no damages to the packages and only
minor scuffs to the rear of the trailer. Idaho State Police responded and requested an ambulance
for the driver of the POV due to complaints of neck pain; the driver was transported from the
scene by ambulance after being issued a citation. The WIPP drivers were not injured. The Idaho
State Police inspected the truck and trailer for safe travel and then escorted the WIPP transport to
a safer location and satisfactorily completed a Level IV CVSA inspection. At approximately
4:10 pm (MDT) truck and trailer were found to be defect free and the shipment was released to
continue to WIPP.
Further details about some of the 2002-2007 accidents
August 25, 2002 – WIPP shipment IN020271 with two TRUPACT-IIs was hit by drunk driver
on US 62-180 near Carlsbad, resulting in minor damage to the trailer. No radiation releases were
detected at the accident site. But at the WIPP site, TRUPACT-II #157 showed possible airborne
contamination within the inner containment vessel at WIPP. That TRUPACT-II was shipped
back to INL. The TRUPACT-II was opened at INL on January 27, 2003. INL officials
concluded that one 55-gallon drum lock-ring was not properly closed prior to shipment, allowing
some contamination on the drum surface.
September 7, 2002 – WIPP shipment from INL goes off of I-80 near Green River, WY [not UT,
as the graphic shows] when the driver blacked out. There was minor damage to the tractor, the
shipment was returned to INL and no contamination was detected. The shipment was then sent
March 19, 2003 – A WIPP truck carrying no waste on its way to SRS was hit by a pickup truck
in Andrews, TX. The WIPP trailer fender and two tires were damaged. The trailer was repaired
and the truck went on to SRS.
July 23, 2004 – WIPP Shipment from Rocky Flats (CO) was struck by a car on the Roswell relief
route at about 11 p.m. The tractor sustained minor damage to the right front fender and wheel
hub. A relief tractor was sent and brought the shipment to WIPP on July 24.
August 19, 2004 – An estimated 36 vehicles were involved in chain reaction crashes on I-80
between Cheyenne and Laramie, WY at 1:45 p.m. A WIPP shipment from Hanford avoided the
accident and was not damaged, as the driver pulled off the road into a shallow ditch. The two
drivers helped pull passengers from burning vehicles and assisted emergency responders. The
shipment stayed at Warren Air Force Base overnight and then went to WIPP the next day.
June 2, 2005 – WIPP shipment SR050060 was hit from behind by a passing 18-wheel-tractor
trailer on I-20 near Merkel, TX. The WIPP trailer had damage to the left rear fender, reflectors,
and mud flap. The reflectors were repaired and the shipment proceeded to WIPP.
December 27, 2005 – A WIPP truck carrying no waste on its way to INL overturned on I-15 near
Blackfoot, ID. The three empty TRUPACT-IIs were strewn on both sides of the roadway. The
driver was cited by Idaho State Police for inattentive driving.
June 2, 2006 – A WIPP shipment from INL was rear-ended by a pickup truck on I-15 near
Downey, ID. The trailer received damage to the suspension and rear axle. The truck was
repaired and returned to INL.
May 11, 2007 – WIPP shipment from SRS hit a Jersey Barrier in a construction zone on I-20
near Ranger, TX. The barrier had been displaced by an east-bound tractor-trailer. The WIPP
tractor had tire and suspension damage that was repaired and the shipment then continued to
Compiled by Don Hancock, Southwest Research and Information Center
BUT WHAT ABOUT SCRAMMING?
Scramming is the act of shoving a control rod into a reactor to stop it from going critical (exploding). It stands for "Safety Control Rod Axe Man" because the world's first nuclear reactor had no safety mechanism, other than a man with an axe and a control rod suspended with a rope.