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.
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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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