NTI’s Martin Rioux-Lefebvre and Andrew Newman, senior program officers in the Materials Security and Minimization program, travelled to Texas and New Mexico to visit three nuclear fuel cycle sites as part of their work with NTI’s Developing Spent Fuel Strategies project. Led by Newman, co-author of Decision-making and Radioactive Waste Disposal, the project seeks to strengthen global approaches to nuclear materials management.
Here is their account of the trip:
As part of our research into new solutions for spent fuel waste management, we were fortunate in early February to visit three of the six facilities that make up what is often called the ‘nuclear corridor’ in Southeast New Mexico and West Texas: the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and the URENCO USA uranium enrichment facility in New Mexico and Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in Texas. (The three we didn’t get to are Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico and the Pantex nuclear weapons assembly/disassembly facility in Texas).
Our trip started at WIPP, near Carlsbad, NM. WIPP is the Department of Energy’s repository for disposal of ‘transuranic waste’ from defense programs. Transuranic waste consists of material contaminated with radioactive elements heavier than uranium and not found in nature, such as plutonium and americium. The waste is lowered 2,150 feet underground into a huge pink salt formation formed about 250 million years ago. Once the deep storage rooms and walls are filled with containers, the salt is allowed to slowly and progressively cave in from all sides and seal the waste permanently.