The WIPP journey to waste receipt Page: 1 of 13
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THE WIPP JOURNEY TO WASTE RECEIPT
G. J. Barnes, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Waste Isolation Division A 7 ta
M. E. Whatley, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Waste Isolation Division
In the early 1970s the federal government selected an area in southeastern New Mexico containing large
underground salt beds as potentially suitable for radioactive waste disposal. An extensive site characterization
program was initiated by the federal government. This site became the "Waste Isolation Pilot Plant," better known
It is now 1997, over two decades after the initial selection of the New Mexico site as a potential radioactive waste
repository. Numerous scientific studies, construction activities, and environmental compliance documents have been
completed. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has addressed all relevant issues regarding the safety of
WIPP and its ability to isolate radioactive waste from the accessible environment.
Throughout the last two decades up to the present time, DOE has negotiated through a political, regulatory, and legal
maze with regard to WIPP. New regulations have been issued, litigation initiated, and public involvement brought to
the forefront of the DOE decision-making process. All of these factors combined to bring WIPP to its present status
- at the final stages of working through the licensing requirements for receipt of transuranic (TRU) waste for
Throughout its history, the DOE has stayed true to Congress' mandates regarding WIPP. Steps taken have been
necessary to demonstrate to Congress, the State of New Mexico, and the public in general, that the nation's first
radioactive waste repository will be safe and environmentally sound. DOE's compliance demonstrations are
presently under consideration by the cognizant regulatory agencies and DOE is closer than ever to waste receipt.
This paper explores the DOE's journey towards implementing a permanent disposal solution for defense-related
TRU waste, including major Congressional mandates and other factors that contributed to program changes
regarding the WIPP project.
Although unplanned events have periodically impacted WIPP schedules and strategies, the United States Department
of Energy (DOE) has met directives of the Nation's highest legislative body, the United States Congress. This
paper examines major Congressional mandates affecting the WIPP, such as the Atomic Energy Act,' the DOE
National Security and Military Applications of Nuclear Energy Authorization Act of 1980,2 the Nuclear Waste
Policy Act of 1982,' the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act of 1992, and the WIPP Land Withdrawal Amendment Act of
1996.5 This paper also examines other major events in the history of WIPP that influenced WIPP schedules and
strategies. "The WIPP Journey to Waste Receipt" is divided into four sections: (1) The Historical Background of
WIPP; (2) The WIPP Construction Phase; (3) Unexpected Regulations and Legal Challenges Impact WIPP; and (4)
WIPP Today - On to Waste Receipt.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF WIPP
In 1946, the United States Congress enacted the Atomic Energy Act (AEA),' which granted the Atomic Energy
Commission (AEC), a DOE predecessor agency, authority to build nuclear weapons and direct the development of
nuclear power for peaceful as well as military purposes. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954' purported to completely
amend the AEA of 1946. In 1974, the responsibilities of the AEC were transferred to the Energy Research and
Development Administration (ERDA),' another DOE predecessor agency. In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission (NRC) was granted authority to regulate and license commercial nuclear facilities in the United States.
In 1977, the DOE was created by Congress,' taking on ERDA's functions.
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Barnes, G. J. & Whatley, M. E. The WIPP journey to waste receipt, report, April 1, 1997; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc692272/m1/1/: accessed October 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.