The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico has been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but at this time, there is no firm date for receipt of waste. WIPP is located in deep salt beds and will be used for the permanent geologic burial of the transuranic waste generated in United States defense programs.
Transuranic waste is much different from the spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste that would be buried at Yucca Mountain if it is found to be suitable for a permanent repository. Transuranic waste is defense waste, not commercial waste from the nuclear industry, which is what would primarily be buried at Yucca Mountain. Transuranic waste consists mostly of by-products of nuclear weapons research, production, and cleanup, such as protective clothing, tools, glassware, and other articles and equipment contaminated with plutonium and uranium. It also includes contaminated soil and sludge.
The storage containers at WIPP are meant to disintegrate over time and let the surrounding salt beds encapsulate the entire underground facility, keeping the waste isolated from the outside environment. Unlike Yucca Mountain, there is not the concern about groundwater contamination because the salt water surrounding WIPP is already undrinkable.
EPA approves and certifies WIPP, while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is the licensing authority for Yucca Mountain. While WIPP must meet a stringent radiation standard that applies to many radiation facilities, Yucca Mountainís radiation standard is being designed by EPA just for Yucca Mountain.
Transuranic waste from the Nevada Test Site, one of 10 sites holding waste to be buried at WIPP, will be transported through southern Nevada to New Mexico by truck. Other than that route, no shipments of transuranic waste are proposed for Nevada highways.