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The Role of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the Cleanup of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex

[+] Author Affiliations
Lynne K. Smith, Mary L. Bisesi

U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC

Paper No. ICEM2003-4791, pp. 909-915; 7 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


As a result of nuclear weapons production, the United States of America produced significant quantities of transuranic waste, which consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris and other items contaminated with small amounts of radioactive man-made elements — mostly plutonium — with an atomic number greater than that of uranium. Transuranic waste began accumulating in the 1940s and continued through the Cold War era. Today, most transuranic waste is stored at weapons production sites across the United States. In 1957, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the most promising disposal option for radioactive wastes was disposal in deep geologic repositories situated in the salt formations. After nearly a decade of study, the United States Department of Energy decided in January 1981 to proceed with construction of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) at a site 41.6 km (26 miles) southest of Carlsbad, New Mexico. After years of study, construction, and permitting, the WIPP facility became operational in early 1999. As the United States continues to clean up and close its former nuclear weapon facilities, the operation of WIPP will continue into the next several decades. This paper will provide on overview of the history, regulatory, and public process to permit a radioactive repository for disposal of transuranic wastes and the process to ensure its long-term operation in a safe and environmentally compliant manner.

Copyright © 2003 by ASME



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