Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Displosal in WIPP

The DOE [US Department of Energy] has built
a facility to demonstrate that it is possible to dispose of trans-uranic waste containing
plutonium if they have negligible heat-loading. They are using a geologic formation called
a salt dome to dispose of these trans-uranic wastes generated as a part of the cold war
effort. By definition, these salt domes have been
free of groundwater or they would not be there. WIPP uses a salt dome that has been stable
for at least 250 million years. This salt dome is located near Carlsbad, New
Mexico, and it’s the first deep geologic repository for permanent disposal of defense-related
trans-uranic waste in the United States. This trans-uranic waste consists primarily
of protective clothing, tools, glassware, equipment, soils, and sludges that have been
contaminated with trace amounts of man-made radioactive materials, such as plutonium. As you can see from the map here, this low-level
trans-uranic waste is shipped from Hanford, Washington, Idaho National Labs, Rocky Flats,
Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and the Nevada National Test Site to the Waste Isolation
Pilot Plant for disposal. Here’s a picture of what the WIPP facility
looks like, but, of course, the real action takes place underground. Here is a schematic of the geologic profile
of the WIPP site, showing that the radioactive waste sits above sea level in the salt dome.

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