Stop Expansion of WIPP for an Above Ground Storage Facility

The Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing to expand the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) again.  This time, to build and operate an above ground storage facility to increase storage capacity by seven times and expand storage time to one year or more.  Five acres would require fencing on WIPP’s southern side.

DOE argues that the storage pad is needed “to improve transuranic[, or TRU,] waste shipping throughout the DOE complex and the WIPP disposal process efficiency by adding the capability to temporarily store TRU mixed waste above ground in concrete overpack containers at the WIPP site.”

Currently DOE has five other expansion proposals.  These include disposal of “surplus” plutonium from nuclear weapons; disposal of high-level waste from the Hanford and Savannah River sites; disposal of commercial “Greater Than Class C” radioactive waste; disposal of commercial waste from West Valley, New York; and the storage of elemental mercury.

Nevertheless, DOE recently proposed more expansion, including the installation of a fifth vertical shaft; expanding the underground footprint; and changing the waste calculation for disposed waste.

On December 15th, DOE released a draft environmental assessment about the storage proposal for public review and comment.  But the assessment does not meet the basic requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.  Comments are now due to DOE on Monday, January 29th.  CCNS and Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) have prepared sample public comments you can use to express your concerns about the proposal*** WIPP Expansion Public Comment 1-26-18

None of the historic legal documents about WIPP included a proposal to store such a huge volume of waste above ground.  For instance, the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act stated the 16-square miles could be used for the “construction, experimentation, operation, repair and maintenance, disposal, shutdown, monitoring, decommissioning, and other authorized activities associated with the purposes of WIPP.”  There was no provision for long-term, above-ground storage.

The proposal must be abandoned.  In the alternative, a supplemental WIPP environmental impact statement is required.

DOE describes the operations as plutonium-contaminated radioactive and hazardous waste would be shipped to WIPP in the TRUPACT-II and HalfPACT shipping containers as it has been since March 26, 1999.  The waste would then be transferred into one of 408 concrete overpack containers and stored on the storage pad for up to one year or longer, since it could stay on the surface.  If approved, the expansion would result in an additional 65,280 cubic feet of waste stored above ground.

Don Hancock, of SRIC, said, “DOE should stop wasting taxpayer dollars on an illegal storage pad and other expansion ideas and focus on safe operations of the site.”

***The file is in PDF format. Simply click on the link, select and copy all the text and paste it into an email addressed to: Then fill in your name at the end after the closing “Sincerely,”


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