Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), New Mexico

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is the first major underground nuclear waste disposal facility to be built in the United States, and so far also the only one. This Department of Energy (DOE) facility east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, is a final disposal site for government-generated radioactive waste, including material from nuclear weapons production. The plant was constructed in the early 1980s and finally received the first load of waste in the late 1990s. Designed to be a permanent, geological tomb for the material, the facility consists of a mile-long corridor 2,150 feet underground, off of which are several chambers for waste storage. There are 30 or so support structures at the surface, in a secure zone covering over 10,000 acres. All the waste disposed of at WIPP is from other DOE and military sites, and is of the low-level and TRU (trans-uranic) variety (none of it is commercial, spent-fuel, or high-level nuclear waste -- that is slated for Yucca Mountain, Nevada, or not). The waste at WIPP is comprised of mostly irradiated laboratory material, such as gloves, protective clothing, and other disposable test equipment. The repository is built in a bedded salt formation, a geologic layer of salt that is expected to slowly encroach on the waste material, surrounding it and isolating it from the atmosphere and ground water. Work on the design of a "keep out" sign for WIPP that would remain legible for 10,000 years is ongoing.