Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Project
"A critical step toward solving the nation's nuclear waste problem"
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, more commonly referred to as "WIPP," is administered by the U.S.Department of Energy's Carlsbad Area Office. Located in southeastern New Mexico, it is designed to demonstrate the safe, permanent disposal of radioactive transuranic waste left from the production of nuclear weapons. Project facilities include excavated rooms 2,150 feet underground in an ancient, stable salt formation.
Transuranic waste consists of clothing, tools, rags and other such items contaminated with trace amounts of radioactive elements - mostly plutonium. These elements are radioactive, man-made and have an atomic number greater than uranium - thus transuranic (beyond uranium).
Transuranic waste began accumulating in the 1940s with the beginning of the nation's nuclear weapons program. A synthetic byproduct of the nuclear weapons program, this nuclear waste remains radioactive for thousands of years. Sound environmental practice requires that the material be permanently isolated to provide protection of human health and the environment for future generations.
Congress declared that the Department of Energy (DOE) must not allow commercial or high-level waste at WIPP - only transuranic waste. Waste generated during clean up of nuclear weapons production facilities also may be disposed of at WIPP.
As early as the 1950s, the National Academy of Sciences recommended disposal of radioactive waste in stable geologic formations, such as deep salt beds. Government scientists searched for an appropriate site during the 1960s, testing the area of southeastern New Mexico in the 1970s. In 1979, Congress authorized the WIPP. DOE constructed the facility 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, during the 1980s.
Waste is now being stored at 10 major DOE sites and other locations across the country. Current temporary storage facilities were never intended to provide permanent environmentally sound disposal.
The WIPP project is meeting all requirements necessary to receive radioactive waste.
Toll-Free Number: 1-800-336-WIPP (1-800-336-9477) Number is staffed from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mountain Standard Time (MST), Monday through Friday, except federal holidays.