.News Update 03/14/08

WIPP Accident North of Las Vegas, New Mexico

March 14, 2008

In the late afternoon of Tuesday, March 11, 2008, a shipment of transuranic waste destined for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) drove off Interstate Highway I-25 through a snow fence and into a field north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. WIPP officials reported no injuries to either of the drivers. There was no damage to the tractor, trailer or the three shipping containers, called the TRUPACT-II. The TRUPACT-II units remained on the trailer.

WIPP is the world's only deep geologic repository for transuranic nuclear waste, or TRU waste, generated from US nuclear weapons manufacturing. WIPP opened in March 1999 and receives waste from Department of Energy (DOE) sites around the country. Over 7.5 million miles have been driven to deliver about 6,500 shipments of waste to WIPP over the last nine years. There have been other accidents, but like the one this week, there was no known release of radioactive or hazardous materials.

Casey Gadbury, director of the National TRU Program at the DOE Carlsbad Field Office, said there were no other vehicles or persons involved in the incident. When the shipment stopped in the field, it was on an embankment in soft soil. A tow truck was called to assist in returning the shipment to the interstate. Once there, the shipment was escorted by the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to a rest area approximately two miles away. The driver was transported to the local medical center in Las Vegas for observation and testing.

The New Mexico State Police conducted an inspection of the WIPP truck, which included a radiation survey. Afterwards, the State Police directed the shipment to be moved to a hotel parking lot in Las Vegas to await the arrival of replacement drivers. The Las Vegas Police Department provided periodic security during this time.

This winter there have been several reports of WIPP trucks being parked in the hotel parking lot. Las Vegas residents are concerned about this new DOE practice and want it stopped.

The replacement drivers and the shipment left Las Vegas around midnight and arrived at the WIPP facility around 7 am.

Don Hancock, of the Southwest Research and Information Center, said, "WIPP has received about 30 percent of the total amount of waste allowed, so there are thousands of more shipments still planned. It is essential that DOE, state officials, and citizens require the safest possible transportation system to prevent future accidents."

Hancock added, "It is also a concern that it was Visionary Solutions, the new WIPP trucking company, that was involved in the accident. That company was awarded a multi-million dollar contract last September, so it should provide exceptional performance. Hopefully, DOE will look carefully at the company's performance before deciding to extend that contract."

The long-time WIPP shipping company is CAST Specialty Transportation Incorporated of Henderson, Colorado, which has a local terminal in Carlsbad to support WIPP transportation operations, and has transported the majority of WIPP shipments.

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