The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management announced last week that, for calendar year 2023, the department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) had its best shipment performance in 10 years, having received 489 transuranic (TRU) waste shipments from generator sites throughout the country. For comparison, WIPP received only 272 shipments in 2022.
It is the best shipment total since 2013, when the facility received 724 shipments, DOE-EM said. Operations at WIPP, the nation’s only repository for the disposal of defense-related TRU waste, were reduced following the February 2014 accident in which radiological materials were released in the repository underground.
According to DOE-EM, several factors enabled the increase in shipments, including the following:
- Increased coordination with generator sites, which make the waste available for packaging and certification through the DOE-established Central Characterization Program.
- More transportation support with mobile loading unit teams at generator sites and shipment drivers.
- WIPP operational efficiencies gained by opening a new, uncontaminated set of underground storage rooms, known as a panel. Waste is disposed of in a set of panels located nearly one-half mile below the surface.
Shipment history: WIPP’s highest total was 1,142 shipments in 2006, with the lowest being 44 shipments in 1999, the year the underground waste repository opened.
Since it began operations in 1999, WIPP has received more than 13,790 shipments totaling over 75,480 cubic meters of waste emplaced. Per the U.S. Land Withdrawal Act, WIPP is limited to 175,000 cubic meters of waste over its lifetime.
While DOE-EM said that legacy waste from its Los Alamos Field Office remains a high priority, the Idaho National Laboratory Site has traditionally been the most prolific generator, with more than 7,000 shipments so far over the course of its cleanup mission.