WIPP News (2013 and older)
Open the accordions below to view news, information and links to historical WIPP compliance and rulemaking activities from 2013 and earlier. To view more recent WIPP Activity, please view the WIPP News webpage.
- Shielded Containers (2007 - 2013)
The EPA has determined that the DOE has met the Agency's previous condition placed on the use of shielded containers for remote-handled (RH) transuranic (TRU) waste destined for disposal at WIPP. The Department is now authorized to ship waste only from approved waste streams using the shielded container assembly (SCA) and complex-wide procedures/processes associated with the SCA.
This approval comes after a thorough technical review of information submitted by the DOE, as well as comments submitted by interested stakeholders.
The DOE has submitted additional information related to shielded containers and complex-wide procedures that will be implemented by CCP to ensure that the surface dose rate from the containers is below the RH-waste limit of 200 millirem/hour. The DOE's letter also references an April 2013 EPA email regarding dose measurement uncertainty, which has been provided below:
- Letter from DOE to EPA regarding requested procedural changes related to shielded containers at WIPP
- Internal EPA email regarding DOE dose contact measurement
August 5, 2013 DOE Submission
- Letter from DOE Carlsbad Field Office to EPA regarding EPA's concerns regarding shielded containers
EPA issued its final technical decision regarding the U.S Department of Energy's (DOE's) shielded containers planned change request. The DOE originally submitted this request on November 15, 2007, which is documented in the accompanying information below. Since that time, the Department has submitted supplemental information related to the shielded containers, most recently on December 3, 2010. This information includes all of the stakeholder concerns brought up during the public meetings held in November 2007, as well as input received during our initial informal comment period, which closed in January 2008.
The Agency opened an additional informal comment period on the shielded containers proposed decision. The comment period was originally scheduled to close after 60 days on on May 24, 2011. However, after requests from the public, the EPA extended it for another 30 days. The second informal comment period for this proposed decision closed on June 23, 2011.
At this time, EPA approved the emplacement of shielded container assemblies at WIPP as outlined below in the letter and attachment (response to comments) - with one condition. Prior to shipping shielded containers to WIPP, the DOE must demonstrate a consistent complex-wide procedure to ensure that the shielded containers containing RH waste remain below the Land Withdrawal Act surface dose rate limit for CH waste of 200 millirem per hour. The procedure will be evaluated for technical adequacy as part of the Agency’s waste characterization inspection and approval process. Please note that no shielded containers may be shipped to WIPP from any RH TRU site until the EPA inspects and approves the implemented procedure. In addition, the DOE will need a separate hazardous waste permit modification from the New Mexico Environment Department to use the SCA; this approval is independent of that permit modification.
- Letter from EPA to the DOE Carlsbad Field Office announcing EPA's approval of DOE's planned change request regarding shielded containers at the WIPP
- Letter from EPA to the DOE Carlsbad Office notifying DOE of EPA's approval of DOE's planned change request regarding the handling of RH TRU at the WIPP
- Review of DOE Planned Change Request for Shielded Containers for Remote-Handled Transuranic Waste
On November 15, 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a planned change request proposing to package and emplace a portion of the Remote Handled (RH) Transuranic (TRU) Waste Inventory in shielded containers at the WIPP.
Documentation related to this change request is available below, including a fact sheet that provides the background and history of the issue, a summary of the proposed change and DOE’s rationale and the projected impact on WIPP performance.
- Letter from DOE to EPA requesting approval to emplace a portion of the RH TRU waste in shielded containers in the WIPP
On December 7, 2007, and April 15, 2008, the EPA submitted comments to the DOE regarding their Shielded Containers planned change request.
- Memo from EPA to DOE regarding a preparatory review of DOE RH shielded container planned change request (12/7/2007)
- Letter from EPA to DOE regarding the review of DOE's submittal for a change request (4/15/2008)
EPA opened an unofficial 60-day public comment period, which closed on January 29, 2008.
DOE submitted supplemental information related to their shielded containers planned change request.
On December 11, 2008, the EPA responded with additional comments regarding the DOE's submissions:
- Letter from EPA to DOE discussing the review of DOE's submitted information related to the Remote-Handled (RH) shielded container planned change request
January 21, 2009 DOE Submission:
June 10, 2009 DOE Submission:
- Letter from DOE to EPA regarding NRC Certificate of Compliance
August 27, 2009 DOE Submission:
- Letter from DOE to EPA regarding a shielded container planned change request
June 11, 2010 Submission:
- EPA/DOE Comments/Responses on Shielded Container Dimensions
September 8, 2010 DOE Submission:
- Letter from DOE to EPA providing additional information about shielded containers
December 3, 2010 DOE Submission:
- Drum Accidentally Punctured in the WIPP Repository (June 2012)
On June 19, 2012, during normal waste emplacement activities in the underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) involving contact-handled Waste Handling Operations (WHO) personnel, a forklift attachment breached an emplaced waste drum. A forklift operator had approached the waste face with a waste package loaded on the forklift and proceeded to align the forklift with a waste stack column. A WHO spotter was in position and signaled the forklift operator to stop but there was a delay in reaction time between the spotter's signal and the forklift operator's response. The breach was approximately 2 to 3 inches in length and approximately 7 inches from the bottom of the drum. The forklift operator moved the loaded forklift approximately 8 feet away from the waste face and lowered the payload to the ground.
The Facility Shift Manager was notified and personnel in the immediate area were directed to leave through the intake air travel path. Radiological monitoring for personnel in the immediate work area did not reveal any contamination on any of the workers involved. In addition, radiological air monitoring equipment for the affected work area did not alarm or indicate any detection of contamination. Within hours of the event, the Facility Manager directed the development of a work control document, for re-entry into the area and to seal the damaged drum. Surveys of the drum, area, and equipment were conducted for radiological contamination. No contamination was found and the drum puncture was sealed.
The DOE notified both the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the EPA of the event, including the cause and details of the incident. Waste handling activities resumed later that same day.
- Salt Disposal Investigations (2011 - 2012)
On August 11, 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided a planned change notification to begin preparatory activities related to the Salt Disposal Investigations (SDI) project at the WIPP. Though SDI activities will start no sooner than October 1, 2011, DOE submitted early supporting documentation in support of this project. On November 17, 2011, the EPA issued an approval for the initial mining phase of the SDI project, based on responses provided by the DOE. The final design of the heater test portion of the SDI project (which will not commence for a number of years) has not yet been submitted; the Agency will review and issue a decision on the heater tests at a future date.
The primary objective of the SDI project is to provide thermal, structural, and hydro-geochemical data for high temperature (greater than 160 degrees Celsius) effects in bedded salt. Contingent on adequate funding, mining of the test area is projected to being in October 2011 and continue for approximately 80 weeks. Once all equipment and preliminary testing has concluded, the heating tests are scheduled to begin in 2015 and continue for two years, followed by a cool-down phase and post-test forensics to be completed in FY 2018. The results of these investigations will fill information gaps in the current knowledge of thermomechanical, hydrological, and chemical behavior of salt and wastes disposed in salt and form the technical foundation for design, operation, coupled process modeling, and performance assessment of future salt repositories for heat-generating nuclear waste.
The DOE has submitted results of their preliminary testing and analyses (based on previous EPA Unreviewed Safety Question [USQ] Determination guidance). The Department submits that the SDI will not have a significant impact on long-term performance of the disposal system, as demonstrated by a thermal analysis and an impact assessment. In addition, the DOE states that the SDI will not require modification to waste disposal processes and will have no significant impact on waste disposal operations.
On June 20, 2012, the DOE submitted revisions to the original SDI concept. These revisions added an additional component, and possible alternative to the SDI project entitled the Salt Defense Disposal Investigations (SDDI) project.
On November 17, 2011, the EPA issued an approval for the initial mining phase of the SDI project based on responses provided by the DOE. The final design of the heater test portion of the SDI project (which will not commence for a number of years) has not yet been submitted; the Agency will review and issue a decision on the heater tests at a future date.
- EPA-DOE Technical Meeting & Informal Stakeholder Meeting (October 2011)
The EPA and the DOE met in Albuquerque, NM, on October 18, 2011, to discuss various WIPP technical issues. In addition, select staff from the EPA, the DOE and the NMED met with stakeholders in Santa Fe, NM, on October 19, 2011
- Repository Reconfiguration (August 2011)
On August 30, 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided a proposed planned change request that will relocate Panels 9 and 10 from the main north-south access drifts to south of the existing Panels 4 and 5 in the WIPP repository. DOE states that relocating these panels will enhance worker safety and reduce maintenance requirements by providing a more stable geotechnical environment.
The Department submitted a performance assessment (PA) for the proposed repository reconfiguration as part of their documentation package. The results of the PA show that the WIPP will remain in compliance with all containment requirements found in 40 CFR 191 and have only a minor effect on total normalized releases from the repository.
- Drum Accidentally Punctured in the WIPP Underground (2008)
On the morning of August 4, 2008, the DOE notified the EPA that during underground operations on August 3, 2008, WIPP staff noticed that a drum had a 1-2 inch gash in it. The DOE believes that the drum was punctured during emplacement activities. Initial tests conducted by DOE detected no releases in the area of the drum or in the radiation monitors at the WIPP. The Department of Energy has temporarily halted shipments to the WIPP.
Additional tests have been done (including the entire area around the payload stacks and breached drum) through August 5, 2008, and the DOE has still detected no radiation from the drum. The drum contains waste from a debris waste stream and the waste is in an inner plastic bag that apparently has not ruptured. The drum has been sealed and the DOE plans to have it overpacked underground. Waste shipments will continue to be suspended until final disposition of the drum is determined.
- Los Alamos National Laboratory TRU waste shipments suspension lifted (2008)
On June 6, 2008, the EPA was notified by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that on May 20, 2008, the Central Characterization Program (CCP) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) shipped an improperly certified non-conformant (NCR) drum (# LAS817174) of contact-handled (CH) transuranic (TRU) waste containing prohibited liquids to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for disposal. According to the DOE notification, the drum was mistakenly added to a group of TRU waste drums, over packed in a standard waste box (SWB), and emplaced in the repository on May 28, 2008. As a result, the EPA and the DOE Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) had mutually agreed to suspend shipments from LANL to the WIPP.
The EPA conducted an initial inspection at LANL on June 25, 2008. On July 29, 2008, the EPA conducted a follow-up inspection at LANL regarding the events that led to the emplacement at the WIPP of the non-conformant drum. These inspections by EPA staff included the following:
- Interviews of LANL and CCP staff.
- Review of DOE and CCP documentation, including the CCP root cause analysis and corrective actions.
- Observing the CCP data center database used to screen compliant drums.
- Visiting LANL’s transuranic (TRU) waste storage/staging area, Dome 49, where both NCRed & non-NCRed TRU drums and other drums in the waste characterization process are stored, moved around, and sent for characterization, as instructed by LANL-CCP.
Based on the documentation provided by the DOE and the EPA’s review of the events leading to the incorrect shipment of the drum from LANL, the Agency concurred with CBFO’s decision to resume shipment of LANL’s CH TRU waste except for most containers from the MIN-03 and CIN-02 solid waste streams on July 29, 2008. These waste streams could be shipped after the EPA evaluates the CCP data center database used by LANL-CCP for screening compliant drums.