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WIPP Shares Expertise with Salt Club Members

November 26, 2013 - 12:00pm


Carlsbad Field Office’s Abe Van Luik, third from right, examines rock salt taken from the Morsleben mine in Germany.

Carlsbad Field Office’s Abe Van Luik, third from right, examines rock salt taken from the Morsleben mine in Germany.

CARLSBAD, N.M. – EM’s Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) participated in the second meeting of the Nuclear Energy Agency’s (NEA) Salt Club and the 4th U.S.-German Workshop on Salt Repository Research, Design & Operation in Berlin.

CBFO, which has responsibility for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and the National Transuranic (TRU) Program, was represented by International Programs and Policy Advisor Dr. Abe Van Luik.

Participants discussed their research and experiences from the operation of salt-based repositories for nuclear waste, enhancing coordination of U.S.-German scientific work in this field.

“As America’s only operating deep geologic repository for the disposal of radioactive waste, WIPP is a global model for other countries,” said CBFO Manager Joe Franco. “It’s important that CBFO engage in international venues to share our knowledge with other nations and gain from their experiences. The salt science exchanges in Germany were especially beneficial because the U.S. and Germany are currently doing active research on salt as a repository host rock.”

As subject experts in salt repository science, the participants shared plans for future work and received almost immediate peer review as they strengthened their professional relationships and promoted best practices.

“German representatives offered lessons learned from their extensive heat testing in salt,” Van Luik said. “These lessons will help EM more efficiently design its currently planned research on the long-term performance of salt for disposal of heat-bearing radioactive wastes.”

The Salt Club includes representatives from NEA member countries (primarily the U.S., Germany, Poland and The Netherlands) that are studying rock salt use in deep geological repositories for nuclear waste.

With members from 31 countries that account for approximately 90 percent of the world’s installed nuclear capability, NEA has a mission to help further develop the scientific, technological and legal paths for the safe, environmentally-friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The workshop included German and U.S. presentations on many of the aspects of salt repository science and engineering. Representatives from the U.S. government, CBFO, Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory participated in the technical exchanges on the U.S. side.

Participants had the opportunity to tour the Asse or Morsleben repository sites in Germany. Like WIPP, these sites used rock salt as the host repository medium. Van Luik visited the closed Morsleben repository to better understand the work involved in closing and sealing the repository, which provides information for CBFO to consider as it plans for the future closure and sealing of WIPP.

“Collaborating with other countries provides a greater research return from the technical and scientific investments being made, which helps save taxpayer money,” said Van Luik. “The Salt Club assures that both plans for investigations and the results of tests conducted on or in salt are documented and shared.”

WIPP is designed to safely isolate defense-related TRU waste in salt rooms mined 2,150 feet below the surface. WIPP’s mission is to protect the environment and ensure the safety of its workers and the public. The project has operated safely, compliantly and efficiently for more than 14 years, and the scientific basis for its safety case is continually being enhanced.