The federal government’s only underground nuclear waste site remained shuttered Monday and state environment officials said they have set deadlines for the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractor to deal with radioactive waste left above ground at the repository.
Dozens of drums and other special containers that have been shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant from federal facilities around the country are being stored in a parking area at the plant and inside the facility’s waste handling building.
From there, the waste is usually taken to its final resting place deep in underground salt beds. However, WIPP has been closed since early February because of back-to-back accidents, including a radiation release that exposed at least 13 workers and set off air monitoring devices around the plant.
Under its permit with the state, the site can keep waste stored in the parking area for only 30 days and up to 60 days in the handling building. Due to the closure, the state is extending those limits to 60 days and 105 days, respectively. The federal government would have to develop an alternative storage plan if the underground caverns remain off-limits for more than three months. The Environment Department outlined the deadlines in an administrative order made public Monday.