Valentine’s Day marked three years since a radiation accident contaminated the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad. After struggling to clean up the deep underground repository, WIPP commenced waste emplacement last month.
WIPP has been moving waste drums underground from an above-ground warehouse, where waste was being temporarily held when a drum of radioactive material burst underground on Feb. 14, 2014, and WIPP was shut down.
WIPP has started off slowly, making just two emplacements per week from the waste handling building, according to a spokesman. When shipments begin, the facility is aiming to make about four emplacements per week by the end of the year compared with an average of 17 per week before the accident.
The repository is the final resting place for the transuranic waste that is a byproduct of the government’s nuclear weapons production – mostly contaminated boots, gloves, tools and other materials.
Los Alamos National Laboratory is on the list of those sites expected to begin shipping in April, along with Department of Energy facilities at Idaho, Oak Ridge and Savannah River. LANL faced its own issues after investigators discovered that the drum that burst at WIPP had been improperly packed by a LANL subcontractor.
WIPP expects to receive 128 shipments between April and January.
“Resuming shipments from generator sites is important to support cleanup and ongoing missions at those sites,” said Carlsbad Field Office Manager Todd Shrader. “We look forward to doing that as soon and as safely as possible.”