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Ongoing work at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant advances nuke waste goal

A walk through both the surface and underground of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant revealed numerous changes going on at the site to support its mission for potentially decades to come.

At WIPP, transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste consisting of clothing materials and equipment irradiated during nuclear activities at Department of Energy sites across the country is permanently disposed of in a salt formation some 2,000 feet beneath surface.

The waste is emplaced in panels mined into the salt formation, which gradually collapse and entomb the waste as salt is believed to be an ideal blocker of radiation.

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Workers at WIPP are currently emplacing waste in the seventh of eight panels described in its operation permit, but another two are being designed for future use as space was lost during a 2014 incident when sections of the underground were contaminated by radiation.

The events resulted from a mispackaged drum that ruptured in the underground and led to a three-year pause of WIPP’s waste emplacement activities.

A tour group walks in a geological repository, U.S. Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, storing transuranic radioactive waste in the desert between Hobbs and Carlsbad on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021

Reinhard Knerr, manager of the DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office said these new panels did not mark and expansion of WIPP’s mission, but provided an avenue to meet its statutory requirement to dispose of 6.2 million cubic feet of waste even after space was lost in the 2014 event.

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