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How WIPP works: Waste Isolation Pilot Plant workers get to bring their family to the site

Anthony Alonzo and his wife Elba journeyed 2,000 underground so she could see what he does for a living.

Alonzo, a waste handler at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant said Elba was nervous about him going to the nuclear waste repository every day, especially since an accidental radiological release in 2014 led to a pause in operations for three years.

But during the tour last month at the WIPP, where about 200 people including workers and the family members were taken into the repository’s underground mine where waste is disposed, Alonzo said his wife was able to see the facility’s safety measure for herself.

He said the experienced helped quell her fears.

“She was pretty shocked when she realized how big it is,” Alonzo said of his wife’s tour of the underground. “She was pretty surprised about how safe it is. It made her more comfortable.”

Nuclear Waste Partnership hosted two family days this year at the WIPP site, one in September and one in October.

Visitors were taken 2,150 underground to tour an area of the mine on a 75-person waste hoist.

They collected salt samples from the mine and learn from a presentation of operations such as mining, bolting and waste emplacement.

On the surface, about 350 workers and family members got to tour an all-electric load haul dump truck, intended to reduce emissions in the underground, and learn how waste is shipped to WIPP.

Other stops on the family tour were at the contact-handled waste bay, the first station and WIPP’s transportation trucks.

“The overall intention of family day was to give employees the opportunity to show their family members where they work and what they do,” said NWP spokesman Bobby St. John. “WIPP employees are very proud of the important mission they are servicing for our country, by cleaning up all the transuranic waste from around the country.”

St. John said informing the community about operations at WIPP is important to maintaining a positive presence in the Carlsbad Community, and ensuring the public that the facility is safe.

“The more people understand and know about WIPP, the better they understand why it is important to complete this cleanup effort,” he said. “It allows the public to see that this can be done in an extremely safe and compliant manner, with the primary focus being on the safety of our employees, the public and the environment.”

For Alonzo, it was also a chance to educate his two sons on the facility he’s worked at for more than 20 years.

He brought his sons Nathanial, 20, and Isaiah, 14, to the tour in September where they learned how waste is brought to WIPP and prepared for disposal.

“For all the years I’ve been there, it was good getting to show my sons exactly what Dad does for a living,” Alonzo said. “Instead of explaining it, this gives them a picture in their mind.

“After the (2014) incident, they were a little worried. This showed them that we still have a safe facility.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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©2019 the Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, N.M.)

Visit the Carlsbad Current-Argus (Carlsbad, N.M.) at www.currentargus.com

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