What is the WIPP and how is the EPA involved?
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or the WIPP, is a Department of Energy (DOE) site where defense-related transuranic waste can be permanently disposed of in a single location. Located outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the WIPP accepts waste shipments from across the country and disposes of the waste in a mined salt repository approximately 2000 feet below the surface. The site’s bedded salt deposit was selected for its ability to permanently isolate radioactive waste from the surrounding environment.
In 1992, Congress gave the EPA the responsibility to oversee the DOE’s activity at the site. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Land Withdrawal Act (PDF)(7 pp, 159.32 K, About PDF)), signed into law in 1992, confirmed that EPA’s environmental safety standards apply to the WIPP, and gave EPA the authority to implement those standards at the facility. For more information on EPA’s regulatory authority over the WIPP’s activities, see EPA’s page Subpart B and Subpart C of 40 CFR Part 191.
Every five years, the EPA must determine whether it can recertify that the WIPP complies with the disposal criteria. The public is given an opportunity to review and comment on the recertification documents, all of which EPA considers before issuing a final recertification. For more information, visit Certification and Recertification of WIPP.
The EPA conducts inspections at the WIPP facility, as well as waste generator sites across the United States. The Agency proposes baseline approval of site-specific waste characterization programs in the Federal Register, and provides an opportunity for the public to submit comments. Following the close of a public comment period, the EPA notifies DOE, via letter, of waste characterization program approvals and dockets all pertinent documents as part of the public record. Following baseline approvals, the EPA conducts inspections to verify continuing compliance and approve programmatic changes.
For more information on EPA’s role at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, visit the EPA's WIPP webpage.