WIPP’s storage “rooms” for nuclear waste are over 2,000 feet underground in the salt bed. From my point of view, part of the magic of WIPP is that salt that deep underground deforms like plastic, flowing about three inches per year. That’s a helpful feature for the isolation of the nuclear waste because it means the salt will flow around the casks of waste, enveloping them in earth material and sealing them in place as time unfolds.
Alert readers may remember that concentrated, high-level nuclear waste was slated to go to the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. We as a nation spent billions of dollars researching and building that repository. But Yucca Mountain was ultimately nixed because people in Nevada didn’t want the waste in their state.
Most folks in New Mexico feel differently about WIPP and its successful operations are converting some skeptics, one by one. There’s even the argument to be made that WIPP could someday accept high level waste, not just the type it’s licensed for.
Nuclear energy is part of our daily electrical power supply. No matter your feelings about that, we’ve got nuclear waste on our hands. For my part, I’m glad WIPP is putting waste into a salty tomb.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.