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The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Site: An International Center of Excellence

[+] Author Affiliations
Mark Matthews

U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC

Paper No. ICEM2003-4845, pp. 259-264; 6 pages
  • ASME 2003 9th International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management and Environmental Remediation
  • 9th ASME International Conference on Radioactive Waste Management and Environmental Remediation: Volumes 1, 2, and 3
  • Oxford, England, September 21–25, 2003
  • Conference Sponsors: Nuclear Engineering Division and Environmental Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 0-7918-3732-7 | eISBN: 0-7918-3731-9
  • Copyright © 2003 by ASME


The United States Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) is responsible for the successful management of transuranic radioactive waste (TRUW) in the United States. TRUW is a long-lived radioactive waste/material. CBFO’s responsibilities includes the operation of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which is a deep geologic repository for the safe disposal of U.S. defense-related TRUW and is located 42 kilometers (km) east of Carlsbad, New Mexico. WIPP is the only deep-geological disposal site for long-lived radioactive waste that is operating in the world today. CBFO also manages the National Transuranic Waste Program (NTP), which oversees TRU waste management from generation to disposal. As of August 1, 2003, approximately 1890 shipments of waste have been safely transported to the WIPP, which has been operating since March 1999. Surface and subsurface facilities designed to facilitate the safe handling and disposal of TRU waste are located within the WIPP site. The underground waste disposal area is in a bedded salt formation at a depth of 650 meters (m). Approximately 176,000 m3 of TRU waste containing up to 17 kilograms of plutonium will be emplaced in disposal rooms 4 m high, 10 m wide and 91 m long. Magnesium oxide (MgO) backfill will be emplaced with the waste to control the actinide solubility and mobility in the disposal areas. Properties of the repository horizon have been investigated in an underground test facility excavated north of the waste disposal area, and in which seals, rock mechanics, hydrology, and simulated waste emplacement tests were conducted. Thus, in some areas of broad international interest, the CBFO has developed a leading expertise through its 25-years WIPP repository and TRU waste characterization activities. The CBFO’s main programmatic responsibilities during the disposal phase are to operate a safe and efficient TRU waste repository at the WIPP, to operate an effective system for management of TRU waste from generation to disposal, and to comply with applicable laws, regulations, and permits. This responsibility requires maintenance and upgrades to the current technologies for TRU waste operations, monitoring, and transportation. This responsibility also requires the maintenance of scientific capabilities for evaluating the performance of the WIPP repository. Every 5 years, WIPP must be recertified for operations by the regulator, the EPA. Currently, the CBFO is preparing for the 2004 recertification. The CBFO/WIPP has been designated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as an International Center of Excellence. The IAEA is working with CBFO, other designated centers of excellence, and other member states in the IAEA to foster collaborative training activities and experiments in order to address major radioactive waste disposal issues. As the only operating deep radioactive waste repository in the world today, CBFO/WIPP is an important participant in this IAEA initiative. In addition to participating in relevant and beneficial experiments, the CBFO is providing the international community convenient access to information by sponsoring and hosting symposia and workshops on relevant topics and by participation in international waste management organizations and topical meetings. The CBFO has agreed to exchange scientific information with foreign radioactive waste management organizations. These activities result in the cost-effective acquisition of scientific information in support of increased WIPP facility operational and post-closure assurance and reliability. It also demonstrates the CBFO’s intent and resolve to honor international commitments and obligations.

Copyright © 2003 by ASME



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