Many years ago, the United States government started a project aimed at proving that nuclear waste can be safely left underground.
The government approved plans to set up a processing center, known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, in the New Mexico desert. The plant received its first shipment of radioactive waste in March of 1999.
Twenty years later, workers have stored more than 12,380 shipments of waste in the plant’s underground salt caverns.
What is WIPP?
WIPP is the U.S. government’s only permanent underground storage area registered to take what is called transuranic waste. The term transuranic means waste made by the nation’s nuclear weapons program that has only radioactive elements heavier than uranium.
The nuclear waste repository was cut out of an ancient salt formation about eight-tenths of a kilometer below the desert. The idea was that the salt would eventually completely contain the waste.
One example is Rocky Flats, a former nuclear weapons plant outside Denver, Colorado. It had a history of leaks, spills and other violations.
Problems and Criticism of WIPP
For critics, the success of WIPP is not clear.
Don Hancock works with the Southwest Research and Information Center, a watchdog group. He notes that WIPP is “80 percent through its lifetime, and it has disposed of less than 40 percent of the waste and has cost more than twice as much as it was supposed to.”
Read more at US Nuclear Waste Dump Marks 20 Years