The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located 26 miles outside of Carlsbad, NM, is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) repository designed to isolate defense-related transuranic waste safely from the public and the environment. Waste temporarily stored at sites around the country is shipped to WIPP and permanently disposed in rooms mined out of ancient salt formations 2,150 below the surface.
EPA's role with the WIPP is primarily in oversight and certification. Under the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act, Congress gave EPA the authority to regulate many of DOE's activities concerning the WIPP. Subparts B and C of 40 CFR Part 191 (disposal regulations) limit the amount of radioactive material that may escape from a disposal facility, and protect individuals from dangerous levels of radioactive contamination.
Throughout its operation of the WIPP, DOE must submit a recertification application to EPA every five years, documenting the continued compliance with environmental regulations. EPA will review the recertification applications to determine whether the facility remains in compliance with applicable standards, and the public will have an opportunity to inspect and comment on the applications. By law, EPA must consider public comments before issuing a final recertification decision of the WIPP.
In addition, DOE must submit periodic reports to EPA of any planned or unplanned changes in activities that differ significantly from the most recent compliance application, and must also report any releases of radioactive material from the disposal system. EPA will review such information to determine whether the certification must be modified, suspended, or revoked. The certification could be modified to alter the terms or conditions of certification to address significant new or changed activities at the WIPP, or could be revoked if it becomes evident that the WIPP cannot or will not comply with the disposal regulations in the future. Suspension may also be initiated at the Administrator's discretion in order to promptly reverse or mitigate a potential threat to public health.
The Department of Transportation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the State of New Mexico, are responsible for transportation of waste to the WIPP.
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