The Waste Isolation Plant: (40 CFR Parts 191 and 194)
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The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is located in southeastern New Mexico, 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad. Operated by the U.S. Department of Energy, the facility is the nation's first geological repository for permanent disposal of transuranic (TRU) radioactive waste. TRU waste is produced during nuclear fuel assembly, nuclear weapons research, production, and cleanup, and as a result of reprocessing spent nuclear fuels. The waste generally consists of protective clothing, tools, glassware, and equipment contaminated with radioactive materials.
EPA has the authority under the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act of 1992, as amended, to regulate many of DOE's WIPP-related activities. This law required EPA to finalize regulations which apply to all sites, except the proposed high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain, for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, and transuranic and high level radioactive waste. These regulations, located at Subparts B and C of 40 CFR 191, limit the amount of radioactive emissions and establish standards for protection of individuals and ground water resources.
40 CFR PART 191 Summary
The WIPP facility is required to meet the environmental standards for disposal and ground-water protection found at 40 CFR Part 191. The individual protection requirements of this regulation mandate that the WIPP be designed to provide a reasonable expectation that, for 10,000 years after disposal, undisturbed performance of the WIPP shall not cause the annual committed effective dose, received through all potential pathways, to any member of the public in the accessible environment, to exceed 15 millirems
The law also directed EPA to develop criteria to implement and interpret the generic radioactive waste disposal regulations specifically for the WIPP. These criteria, found at 40 CFR Part 194, describe the information DOE must submit in any certification application and clarify the basis on which EPA's compliance determination will be made.
DOE submitted a Compliance Certification Application to EPA on October 29, 1996. On May 13, 1998, EPA certified that the WIPP will comply with the radioactive waste disposal regulations (40 CFR Part 191, Subparts B and C) and is therefore safe to contain transuranic waste for 10,000 years. The facility began to accept waste on March 26, 1999. EPA will continue to regulate the WIPP to ensure that it is safe. The Agency is conducting formal audits and inspections of the WIPP, as well as the waste-generator sites that will transport waste to the WIPP. Throughout its operation of the WIPP, DOE must document to EPA every five years the WIPP's continued compliance. EPA will review the recertification application to determine whether the facility remains in compliance with applicable standards. The public will have an opportunity to inspect and comment on the applications.