Salt Beds Offer Potential Solution to Mountain of Nuclear-Waste Problem

RICHLAND, WA - JUNE 30: Jim Geary, facility manager at the Waste Receiving and Processing facility (WARP), looks over a shipment of three TRUPACT transport containers on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation June 30, 2005 near Richland, Washington. Each container holds 14 55-gallon drums of transuranic (TRU) waste that has been processed and will be sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.
National Journal
Clare Foran
Feb. 10, 2014, 1:45 a.m.

Salt beds used to con­tain nuc­le­ar-weapons byproducts in New Mex­ico could serve as an al­tern­at­ive to the now de­funct Yucca Moun­tain nuc­le­ar-waste re­pos­it­ory, The New York Times re­ports.

New Mex­ico’s Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Pro­ject func­tions as a safe stor­age fa­cil­ity for plutoni­um, a ma­ter­i­al that re­mains fol­low­ing the con­struc­tion of nuc­le­ar weapons. WIPP is loc­ated in­side un­der­ground salt beds that act as a nat­ur­al seal­ant for nuc­le­ar byproducts.

The suc­cess of the pro­ject is at­tract­ing at­ten­tion in light of the polit­ic­al im­passe over Yucca Moun­tain, a site that was des­ig­nated as a na­tion­al nuc­le­ar-waste re­pos­it­ory but re­mains in limbo fol­low­ing a dir­ect­ive from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that it should not be used. 

WIPP is not au­thor­ized cur­rently to store nuc­le­ar-fuel waste, but Con­gress could over­turn this des­ig­na­tion. For now, New Mex­ico Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Susana Mar­tinez has not taken a po­s­i­tion on wheth­er the fa­cil­ity should be ex­pan­ded to in­clude nuc­le­ar-waste in­take.

“We haven’t made any de­cision on any pos­sible fu­ture mis­sion for WIPP,” said F. Dav­id Mar­tin, the Cab­in­et sec­ret­ary-des­ig­nate for the New Mex­ico En­ergy, Min­er­als and Nat­ur­al Re­sources De­part­ment. “The gov­ernor wants to be as­sured by the sci­ence that it could be done safely.”

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