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Release Date: 05/13/98
Contact Information:

United States Environmental Protection Agency                                                        
Air and Radiation (6602J) EPA 402-F-98-0002                              

          EPA's Final Certification Decision for the
                 Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

What is WIPP?  

The WIPP is the nation's first deep underground facility for disposing of transuranic radioactive waste
generated from defense activities.  DOE is developing the WIPP in southeastern New Mexico, near Carlsbad,
approximately 2,100 feet ( mile) underground in excavated, natural salt formations.  Most transuranic
radioactive waste to be disposed at the WIPP consists of contaminated clothing, rags, glassware, sludges, and
equipment.  Some transuranic waste is mixed with hazardous chemicals.  The waste that would be disposed
of at the WIPP is currently stored at Federal facilities across the United States.  Most of the waste proposed
for disposal at the WIPP will be generated during the cleanup of DOE's radioactively contaminated sites in
the future.

What is EPA's Final Decision on the WIPP's Safety?

EPA has determined that the WIPP is safe to contain
transuranic waste and that it will comply with the
Agency's radioactive waste disposal standards.  EPA's
decision allows the DOE to begin disposing radioactive
waste in the WIPP once all other applicable health and
safety standards have been met.

What are EPA's Conditions of Compliance?

In making its decision, EPA is requiring DOE to take additional steps to further assure public safety and environmental
protection.  EPA's final certification decision is subject to four conditions of compliance:

" DOE must seal waste storage panels within WIPP with a strong concrete barrier which can help
    reduce potential releases in case of intrusion.

" Before WIPP receives any shipments of waste from a waste generator site, DOE must demonstrate to
    EPA that it can accurately assess or confirm the contents of waste containers stored or assembled at
    that site.

" Before WIPP receives any shipments of waste from a waste generator site, DOE must demonstrate to
    EPA that it can implement its quality assurance programs (that will confirm that the waste
    characterization activities are done properly) at that site.

" DOE must submit a revised schedule showing that markers and other measures (used to warn future
    generations about the location and contents of the disposal system) will be implemented as soon as
    possible after closure of the WIPP.
In addition, under existing regulations, DOE must report to EPA any changes in activities or any releases of
radioactive material at the WIPP that might violate EPA's safety requirements.

How did EPA make its final decision?
EPA based its decision on a thorough review of information submitted by DOE, independent technical
analyses, and public comments.  EPA's evaluation of compliance was made by comparing DOE's compliance
certification application and other relevant information, to EPA's compliance criteria for the WIPP.  EPA
performed independent testing of DOE's performance assessment calculations, which are used to demonstrate
that the WIPP will comply with EPA's radioactive waste disposal regulations for   10,000 years.  EPA also
considered approximately 1400 written and oral public comments received on the proposed rule.

What is EPA's role in regulating the WIPP?

EPA regulates the disposal of radioactive waste to protect public health and the environment from harmful
radiation exposure and contamination.  EPA's regulation of the WIPP facility is governed by the WIPP LWA,
passed initially by Congress in 1992 and amended in 1996.  The LWA requires EPA to certify whether the
WIPP will comply with EPA's radioactive waste disposal regulations before waste disposal may begin.

What are EPA's other WIPP-related activities?

To certify whether the WIPP is safe to contain radioactive waste, the LWA required EPA to finalize
radioactive waste disposal regulations which apply to all geologic repository sites (except for Yucca
Mountain) and to develop criteria to implement the disposal regulations specifically at WIPP.  In December
1993, EPA issued final radioactive waste disposal regulations  which limit radiation releases from facilities
for disposal of radioactive waste.  EPA issued  final compliance criteria for the WIPP in February 1996.
Both the radioactive waste disposal regulations and the compliance criteria reflect public comments and
suggestions from the WIPP Review Committee of the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy
and Technology.

When will the WIPP open for waste disposal?

Before disposing of radioactive waste at the WIPP, DOE must:

" Notify Congress and wait for 30 days after EPA's final certification, as specified in the WIPP LWA.
" EPA must separately inspect and approve the quality assurance programs for waste generator sites and
    the waste characterization controls to measure and track important waste components.  This applies to all
    waste generator sites.  EPA already inspected and approved the waste characterization and quality
    assurance for some of the waste at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) as part of its
    certification decision.
" Before disposing of mixed (chemical and radioactive) waste at the WIPP, DOE must obtain a permit
    from the State of New Mexico to accept hazardous (chemical) waste.  Until that time, WIPP is certified
    only to accept radioactive waste.

What other agencies have key oversight responsibilities at the WIPP?

Department of Transportation (DOT) - The DOT is responsible for working with individual states to
 establish the surface routes that will be used to transport waste to the WIPP

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) - The NRC implements EPA's and its own standards for
 protecting the public from radiation.  It also regulates the transportation of nuclear waste.

New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) - The NMED is responsible for issuing and enforcing
 RCRA permits relating to the disposal of transuranic mixed waste.

New Mexico Radioactive Waste Task Force - This Task Force administers the State's WIPP Safe
 Transportation Program.

Department of Energy (DOE) - The DOE is responsible for the development and day-to-day
 management of the WIPP facility.  For more information call DOE's WIPP Information Center at:

How will EPA stay involved with WIPP?

Throughout its operation of the WIPP, DOE must apply for recertification by EPA every five years.
EPA must review recertification applications to determine whether the WIPP continues to comply with
 the disposal regulations.  As part of its review, EPA will consider public comments.  
EPA may conduct inspections of activities at the WIPP and at other WIPP-related facilities (laboratories,
 waste generator sites, etc. ) to verify continued compliance with EPA's radioactive waste disposal

For More Information on EPA's WIPP Activities: Call EPA's WIPP Information Line at 1-800-331
WIPP or visit our Website at


  United States          
  Air and Radiation  
  EPA 402-F-98-005
 Environmental Protection  (6602J)             May 1998
                 EPA's Continuing Regulation of the  
                    Waste Isolation Pilot Plant


Now that  EPA has certified the WIPP, what will EPA

EPA will continue to have an oversight role at the WIPP
to ensure that it continues to be protective of human
health and the environment.  EPA will:

 Review and Evaluate DOE Reports

     EPA will review new information from DOE to determine whether the certification should be
    modified, suspended or revoked.  DOE is required by regulation to report changes in activities or in
    conditions that have the potential for any releases. EPA may suspend WIPP certification at the
    Administrator's discretion, to quickly reverse or mitigate a potential danger to public health.  Any
    decision to modify or revoke certification must be conducted by a rulemaking, including a public
    comment period.

 Conduct Audits or Inspections at the Waste Generator Sites Before Allowing Waste Shipment

     Currently the waste destined for the WIPP is stored at waste sites across the United States.   Before
    the waste can be transported to the WIPP, EPA requires that it be identified or "characterized."
    Additionally, DOE is required to have in place a system of controls to measure and track important
    waste components, and to apply quality assurance (QA) measures to its waste identification
    activities.  EPA must separately approve the QA programs and the waste characterization controls
    for generator sites.  

     EPA will conduct audits or inspections at waste generator sites to determine if DOE is properly
    tracking the waste to ensure that it adheres to specified waste component limits.   Notices announcing
    EPA audits or inspections to evaluate quality assurance and waste characterization programs at
    generator facilities will be published in the Federal Register.  The public will have the opportunity to
    submit written comments on DOE's waste characterization and quality assurance program plans, and
    on other appropriate documentation.  This documentation will be placed in EPA's docket.

     EPA must confirm that the waste placed in the WIPP falls within waste limits assumed during the
    analysis of the performance of the WIPP.  The waste limits are fixed and may only be changed
    through a modification to the certification.  DOE would have to show that the WIPP complies with
    EPA's containment requirements before any new limits could be established.
 Conduct Inspections at the WIPP
    EPA may conduct inspections of activities at the WIPP and at other WIPP-related facilities
    (laboratories, waste generator sites, etc.) to verify continued compliance with EPA's radioactive
    waste disposal standards.  EPA may conduct periodic inspections, both announced and unannounced,
    and also may inspect any relevant records kept by DOE.  EPA will place inspection reports in its
    docket for public examination.

How long will EPA regulate the WIPP?

As specified in the LWA, EPA will continue to regulate the WIPP until it closes.  EPA will  conduct a
recertification every five years until closure to determine whether the WIPP continues to be in compliance
with EPA's radioactive waste disposal standards.

How can the public stay involved in EPA's oversight of the WIPP?

As EPA reviews any information,
including public input, relevant to
WIPP's safety, this information will
be placed in EPA's official docket in
Washington, DC, and in additional
dockets in Carlsbad, Santa Fe, and
Albuquerque, NM.  

EPA will consider public input as it makes subsequent decision regarding: recertification, approval of waste
generator sites for shipment, and any decision to modify, suspend or revoke a certification.