Ribbon cutting Jan. 4 at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.Courtesy photo
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, reopened the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Wednesday, Jan. 4 with the disposal of two pallets of plutonium contaminated radioactive and hazardous waste that had been stored in the Waste Handling Building since 2014 into the underground salt mine.
Workers were required to wear personal protective equipment to protect them from radiation exposure. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Monday, January 9 with DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, as well as other dignitaries, who did not wear protective equipment when they descended into the uncontaminated areas of the dump.
WIPP was reopened following a truck fire and a radiation release that contaminated a large portion of the mine in February 2014.
Once all of the waste containers stored in the Waste Handling Building are disposed of, shipment from other DOE sites could begin. It is anticipated that shipments from the Idaho National Laboratory would have priority because it has about 20,000 nuclear waste containers ready to go.
Activists question bringing shipments from other sites when necessary mine safety work is needed now. The work includes installing roof bolts in the ceiling to keep it from falling; required improvements to the ventilation system, which will not be completed until at least 2021; and closing 60 percent of the contaminated areas where recently slabs of salt have fallen.