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Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

  The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) site is located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico in an area known as Los Medanos ("the dunes"). This area of New Mexico is relatively flat and is used primarily for grazing. Potash mining and oil exploration and production are quite prevalent in the area. Fewer than 50 people live within 10 miles surrounding the WIPP site and only 50,000 live in the entire county.

WIPP is essentially a very sophisticated salt mine designed for the permanent disposal of transuranic wastes (or TRU wastes) generated from defense-related activities (i.e., research and development of nuclear weapons).  The repository itself is 2,150 feet (655 meters) below the surface of the earth in the Salado Formation. If certified for waste disposal, waste will be placed in tunnels and chambers dug by state-of-the-art mining methods located in a 3,000-foot-thick salt formation at 1,250 feet above sea level and 2,150 feet below the surface.

WHY SALT? In 1956, the National Academy of Sciences recommended salt formations as a suitable medium to permanently dispose of radioactive wastes. The salt formation was selected because of its "plastic" nature -- it creeps under pressure. The idea behind disposal in a salt mine relies on the underground pressures to cause the salt to close in on the waste and seal it in the underground rooms, rendering the waste immobile. The site near Carlsbad was selected for exploration in 1974. Excavation began in 1982. Four shafts allow access and ventilation to the mine.

Aerial Photo of WIPP's above-ground facilities. stratigrThe above-ground complex at the WIPP facility includes a waste handling building where the waste will be unloaded from TRUPACTs and inventoried, inspected and prepared for disposal.
This graphical representation of the WIPP Facility can be seen at DOE's WIPP Web site. Click on the picture to go there. Aerial Photo of WIPP's above ground facilities

You can find out more about the WIPP facility by contacting the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Carlsbad Area Office.

Contact Information
WIPP Transportation Safety Program
Coordinator, Eletha J. Trujillo
New Mexico Radioactive Waste Consultation Task Force
1220 South St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, NM 87505
P: (505) 476-3224
F: (505) 476-3322

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