Waste heads to Texas while WIPP gets in shape

21 March 2014

Waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico will be temporarily stored at a site in Texas until the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) disposal facility reopens. LANL has committed to remove all above-ground transuranic waste from its site by June.

LANL TRU shipment 460 (LANL)
Over one thousands shipments of TRU from LANL have already been made by road to WIPP (Image: LANL)

In early 2012, the US Department of Energy's (DoE's) LANL signed an agreement with the Governor of New Mexico to remove all above-ground transuranic (TRU) waste and ship it to WIPP by June 2014.

A $200 million contract was awarded to a partnership between EnergySolutions and Environmental Dimensions Inc (EDI), with various subcontractors, to carry out waste characterization, processing and waste operations services.

TRU is waste containing man-made elements that are heavier than uranium, such as plutonium. The waste consists of such things as contaminated clothing, tools and other work equipment, rags, soil, and debris from the laboratory's technical sites, arising from LANL's operations since its foundation in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project.

However, operations at the WIPP facility were suspended following the detection of airborne radiation within the plant on 14 February. The WIPP plant, located almost 500 kilometers from LANL, is owned by DoE and operated by Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC (NWP). The facility disposes of transuranic waste packages from the US military in an underground salt formation.

In order to help LANL meet its commitment to remove the TRU from its site by June, NWP has signed a contract with Waste Control Specialists for the temporary storage of the remaining waste at its facility in Andrews County, Texas.

DoE's national TRU program director J R Stroble said, "The LANL waste will be staged so that it can be disposed of as soon as WIPP resumes waste receipt operations. These shipments will be managed just like other WIPP shipments. The department will continue to evaluate potential alternatives for other DoE transuranic waste generating sites until WIPP is fully operational."

Workers are expected to re-enter the WIPP facility for the first time within the next few weeks. They have been performing trial runs in a nearby potash mine. This training has allowed them to test equipment and protective wear in ground conditions similar to WIPP's layered salt formation.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Filed under: Contracts, Waste management, USA