A large group of people pose for a picture in a parking lot standing in front of a truck carrying 3 large, grey canisters

Following a ceremony recognizing the 25th anniversary of the underground waste repository, attendees gathered for a photograph next to a Waste Isolation Pilot Plant truck and empty, new transportation containers used to transport transuranic waste to the facility.

CARLSBAD, N.M.EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) reached a major milestone last week — 25 years of operations at the nation’s only deep, underground geological repository for disposal of defense-generated transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste.

It was a full auditorium during a recognition ceremony at the WIPP site. Attendees included officials from the DOE, Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, State of New Mexico Environment Department, as well as elected New Mexico state officials, regional and local elected officials, community leaders and civic organizations.

This video chronicles EM's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant history and achievements, and looks to the future as significant infrastructure upgrades are underway at the underground waste repository.

“WIPP plays a vital role not only disposing of the nation’s TRU waste, but also in our national security,” said William “Ike” White, EM senior advisor. “Because of WIPP, more than 20 DOE sites have been able to safely dispose of their TRU waste, resulting in a reduced risk to millions of Americans.”

White added, “WIPP remains the cornerstone of the U.S. DOE’s important environmental cleanup mission, permanently disposing of the nation’s TRU waste.”

Twenty-five years ago, WIPP received its first shipment of defense-generated TRU waste, marking the official beginning of operations. The shipment from the Los Alamos National Laboratory was safely transported and disposed of in the WIPP underground disposal area.

Aerial view of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Located in southeast New Mexico, about 33 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant repository is carved out of a 2,000-foot-thick salt bed formed 250 million years ago. Transuranic waste is disposed of 2,150 feet underground in rooms mined from the salt bed.

“This is an exciting day for our employees and the surrounding area,” said Mark Bollinger, EM’s Carlsbad Field Office manager. “Without the dedication of the workforce, we would not be here today. Their attention to detail and safety is the reason WIPP has been so successful.”

Since WIPP’s opening on March 26, 1999, TRU waste shipments to the underground repository safely traveled over 16.5 million loaded miles, which would equate to approximately 34 round trips to the moon. This has led to the safe disposal of over 285,000 waste containers in the WIPP underground.

-Contributor: Bobby St. John