The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located 35 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, USA is the first and, to the author’s knowledge, only facility in the world for the permanent disposal of defense related transuranic (TRU) waste. Soon after plutonium was first synthesized in 1940 by a team of scientists at the University of California Berkley Laboratory, the need to find a permanent repository for plutonium contaminated waste was recognized due to the more than 24,000 year half-life of Plutonium-239 (239Pu). In 1957 the National Academy of Sciences published a report recommending deep geological burial in bedded salt as a possible solution. However, more than 50 years passed before the solution was achieved when in 1999 WIPP received the first shipment of TRU waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Ten years later, more than 7,600 shipments of TRU waste have been disposed of in rooms mined in an ancient salt bed more than 2,000 feet underground. This paper provides a brief history of WIPP with an overview of the technical, regulatory, and political hurdles that had to be overcome before the idea of a permanent disposal facility became reality. The paper focuses primarily on the safe, uneventful transportation program that has moved 100,000-plus containers of TRU waste from various U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) generator and/or storage sites across the Unites States to southeastern New Mexico.

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