New Mexico approves WIPP’s 10-year permit renewal

October 12, 2023, 9:31AMRadwaste Solutions
Mining crews view progress in an ongoing mining tunnel, known as a drift, at the WIPP facility in New Mexico. (Photo: DOE)

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) signed a final order approving a 10-year permit renewal for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the nation’s deep geologic repository for defense-related transuranic (TRU) waste.

The order comes after the completion of nine months of public comment and will become effective on November 3. The WIPP repository operates under a permit issued by NMED, which has the authority to regulate hazardous waste at WIPP. The previous permit expired on December 30, 2020, and the facility has since been operating under an administratively extended permit.

“The new permit will benefit New Mexico and legacy waste cleanup from around the U.S. for years to come,” said NMED cabinet secretary James Kenney.

Background: The DOE and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the WIPP operating contractor at the time, applied to NMED to renew the facility’s hazardous waste permit in March 2020. WIPP first received a hazardous waste facility permit from the state in 1999 to dispose of TRU waste 2,150 feet below ground in the geologic repository. That permit was renewed in 2010.

In its latest permit renewal, NMED added several conditions that were intended to prioritize the disposal of TRU waste generated in the state and limit the repository’s capacity. After opening the draft permit to public comment in December 2022, NMED received requests for a hearing from multiple parties that opposed the permit renewal.

In June of this year, the DOE, along with current WIPP operating contractor Salado Isolation Mining Contractors and NMED, negotiated the settlement with New Mexico stakeholders to adopt a draft permit that included many of the conditions originally proposed by NMED. At the time, NMED also extended the comment period on the permit to September 22.

More info: A link to the final permit and NMED’s response to comments can be found on NMED’s WIPP News website.

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