On March 26, 1999, the United States (U.S.) Department of Energy (DOE) opened the nation’s first deep geological disposal system (repository) for long-lived radioactive wastes/materials (LLRMs) at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) site, New Mexico, United States of America (USA). The opening of WIPP embodies gradually achieved acceptance, both local and global, on scientific, institutional, regulatory, political, and public levels. In the opinion of the author, five significant determinants for the successful siting, certification, and acceptance of WIPP, were the existence of:
• A willing and supportive host community;
• A strong, independent regulator;
• A regulatory framework widely perceived to (over)protect public health and the environment;
• A structurally simple, old, stable, host-rock with excellent radionuclide containment and isolation characteristics; and
• An open siting, site characterization, repository development, certification and recertification process with regularly scheduled opportunities for information exchanges with affected and interested parties, including a) prompt responses to non-DOE concerns and b) transparency/traceability of external-input into, and the logic behind, the DOE’s decision-making process.
The nation’s and the world’s next deep geological repository for LLRMs is currently scheduled to open in 2010. As follows, in addition to providing a national solution to safe disposal of LLRMs, the opening and continued safe operation of WIPP provides an international role model that effectively dispels the global myth that LLRMs cannot be safely disposed in a deep geological repository.