In recent years, retrievability (and various permutations of this term) has emerged around the world as a means to achieve and enhance public acceptance of deep geological disposal of long-lived radioactive wastes/materials (LLRMs). In this debate, it is often erroneously suggested that post-closure retrievability of the emplaced LLRMs cannot be accomplished in salt.
In October 1996, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) submitted the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Compliance Certification Application (CCA) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for review and approval. The CCA included a feasibility analysis defining a five-phased approach to post-closure waste removal from the WIPP rock salt repository based on currently available equipment and technologies. The feasibility analysis addressed highly adverse workers’ safety and waste retrieval conditions, including:
2. Hazardous constituents.
5. Rock integrity (instability).
The concluding statement in the CCA was that “In no case, however, are the conditions expected to render removal impossible”. In May 1998, the EPA announced that WIPP complied with all applicable radioactive waste management and disposal regulations. This announcement was preceded by intense EPA and public scrutiny and oversight, which included successfully overcoming two legal challenges. Hence, the global application of the WIPP waste-removal feasibility analysis is:
LLRM emplaced in a rock salt repository can be removed during the post-closure period with currently available technologies!