Idaho to send 61 waste shipments to WIPP

A team of state regulators tour the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository Dec. 8 near Carlsbad, N.M. The facility reopened last month. Associated Press

The Idaho Cleanup Project will send an estimated 61 shipments of radioactive waste to New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant over the next year, more than any other site, U.S. Department of Energy officials said Tuesday.

DOE officials released estimated shipment numbers for five waste generation sites across the country. The transuranic waste has been stranded around the country since a radiation accident shut down the underground repository near Carlsbad in 2014.

The facility reopened on a limited basis last month, and workers currently are burying waste that was stored directly over the mine. In a Tuesday update, DOE officials said shipments from sites including Idaho would start in April.

“Shipments from a given site can commence once the site has demonstrated its readiness to load and ship (waste) containers and has verified that waste destined for WIPP meets the updated Documented Safety Analysis requirements,” DOE officials wrote.

Officials said the “sequence for shipping” would change based on a number of logistical factors, such as WIPP’s emplacement rate and weather.

While Idaho cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho will send more than twice the number of shipments of any other site, it will not be nearly enough to make the necessary progress toward meeting a Dec. 31, 1995, Settlement Agreement deadline with the state of Idaho.

Idaho has more than 900 shipments — or more than 20,000 individual containers — of transuranic waste that are supposed to leave by the end of next year.

DOE officials previously said about five shipments per week would be sent to WIPP this year from generator sites. But under the projected shipment numbers — 128 total from the five sites — it appears an average of three shipments per week will be accepted in New Mexico.

“The suspension of disposal operations has posed challenges at DOE sites, with backlogs of (transuranic) waste building up,” DOE Carlsbad Field Office Manager Todd Shrader said in a statement. “Resuming shipments from generator sites is important to support cleanup and ongoing missions at those sites. We look forward to doing that as soon and as safely as possible.”

Luke Ramseth can be reached at 542-6763. Twitter: @lramseth