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WIPP gets state environment department’s approval to reopen

The New Mexico Environment Department on Thursday said it has given a federal nuclear waste repository the green light to reopen after a nearly three-year closure provoked by a radiation accident, clearing the way for the federal government to make the final determination.

NMED said it advised the U.S. Department of Energy last week that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant passed its latest environmental inspection and DOE is “notified that NMED is approving the resumption of normal operating status at WIPP.”

Two accidents occurred in the deep underground repository outside Carlsbad in February 2014: first a fire on a salt haul truck and then a hot reaction inside a drum of nuclear waste. The unrelated incidents resulted in numerous findings of mismanagement by investigators, and WIPP has been working to recover ever since.

WIPP operates under a hazardous waste permit issued by NMED and had to address corrective actions outlined in at least three administrative orders following the incidents.

NMED conducted its final inspection pertaining to those orders earlier this month.

The state’s inspection was one of the hurdles WIPP needed to clear before the radiologically contaminated site can reopen and start putting drums of waste underground again.

Site managers are also addressing the findings of a DOE “operational readiness review.” The emplacement of waste underground at WIPP is expected to restart in the coming weeks.

WIPP, carved from ancient salt beds 2,150 feet below the surface, is the nation’s only underground repository for certain types of legacy Cold War waste.