For nearly four decades, Amentum and its heritage companies made history at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico.
In 1979, Congress authorized the construction of WIPP as a research and development facility to demonstrate the safe disposal of defense-generated transuranic (TRU) radioactive waste from activities not regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The facility, located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, N.M., was constructed during the 1980s. In 1998, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certified WIPP for safe, long-term disposal of TRU wastes.
Generally, TRU waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, soil, and other items contaminated with radioactive elements, mostly plutonium. These man-made elements have atomic numbers greater than uranium, thus trans-uranic, or beyond uranium on the Periodic Table of Elements.
Amentum’s Historical Role at WIPP
Amentum’s long history at WIPP began in 1985 when the first in a long line of Amentum heritage companies served the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with design, engineering, and technical assistance. Three years later (1988) another heritage company, was named the WIPP management and operations contractor. In all, Amentum and its heritage companies have managed and operated WIPP for more than 35 years.
Since the first Transuranic waste shipment arrived at WIPP on March 24, 1999, Amentum was a part of numerous milestones that helped shape DOE’s approach to nuclear waste management and disposal.
To date, Amentum has partnered with DOE to complete TRU waste cleanup at 22 DOE sites nationwide, including the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site near Denver, Colorado in 2006. As a result, Rocky Flats has been transformed into a wildlife refuge that is enjoyed by thousands of Coloradoans each year.
Since opening, more than 13,300 TRU waste shipments safely arrived at WIPP. During more than 20 years of TRU waste transportation, drivers completed more than 15 million safe-loaded miles without serious incidents. This feat is equivalent to a person driving the circumference of the earth 600 times without a significant accident.
In addition to cleaning up the environment and making America safer, Amentum and its heritage companies made huge contributions to the communities near WIPP. WIPP hosts communities of Carlsbad and Hobbs, New Mexico where corporate donations routinely eclipse $500,000 a year and grew to several million dollars over the life of the project.
WIPP Key Milestones
May 1986 – Amentum-led Westinghouse Waste Isolation Division oversees the redesign of the shipping container, the TRUPACT, adding double containment and eliminating a venting feature.
September 1989 – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission certifies the TRUPACT-II shipping container.
June 1990 – A record of decision by the DOE allows Amentum legacy company, Westinghouse, to continue with the phased development of WIPP.
October 1992 – President Bush signs into law the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act, designating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as WIPP’s primary regulator.
December 1993 – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues radiation standards for waste containment criteria for WIPP.
May 1995 – Co-permittees DOE and Amentum-led Westinghouse Waste Isolation Division submit the application for a Hazardous Waste Permit to the New Mexico Environment Department.
May 1998 – EPA certifies WIPP, and the New Mexico Environment Department issues a draft Hazardous Waste Permit.
March 26, 1999 – First waste shipment arrives at WIPP and is emplaced underground later that day.
April 17, 1999 – Energy Secretary Bill Richardson welcomes dignitaries to WIPP grand opening.
October 2000 – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission certifies the RH-72B shipping container for remote-handled TRU waste.
December 2003 – Waste Panel 1 is filled.
May 2004 – Amentum-led Westinghouse’s Silver Mine Rescue Team is named overall champion at the National Mine Rescue Competition.
June 2005 – Rocky Flats sends final TRU waste shipment to WIPP, allowing the large quantity waste site to close ahead of schedule.
February 2007 – For the 21st time in 22 years, Amentum-led Westinghouse is awarded the New Mexico Mining Association’s mine operator of the year for safety.
2009 – Amentum-led Westinghouse/WIPP celebrates 10 years of safe operations.
2010 – WIPP drivers surpass 10 million safe-loaded miles.
2011 – Amentum-led Nuclear Waste Partnership receives 10,000th waste shipment.
2012 – Final shipments arrive from Sandia National Laboratories, which is the 22nd site to be cleaned up.
February 2014 – WIPP temporarily suspends operations following a fire on a salt haul truck. Days later, a radiological release occurs, which is later determined to have resulted from a Los Alamos National Laboratory waste container.
2016 – Amentum-led Nuclear Waste Partnership’s Blue Mine Rescue Team wins the National Mine Rescue Competition championship.
2017 – Waste emplacement operations and WIPP shipments resume following the 2014 events.
2018 – Mining resumes at WIPP and ground is broken for a new permanent ventilation system.
2019 – Amentum/WIPP celebrates 20 years of operations.
2020 – Amentum-led Nuclear Waste Partnership regains the DOE Voluntary Protection Program “Star” status; excavation for new Utility Shaft reaches 56-foot mark.
August 2021 – Amentum-led Nuclear Waste Partnership reaches a key milestone six weeks early by completing the foundation of the New Filter Building, a key component of the new permanent ventilation system.
November 2021 – WIPP receives its 13,000 TRU waste shipment marking an important milestone in DOE’s mission to clean up the country’s Cold War legacy.
April 14, 2022 – The final container of legacy TRU waste from the Savannah River Site arrives at WIPP for permanent disposal, capping the end of a journey for 239 shipments that began in 2011.
October 20, 2022 – Amentum-led Nuclear Waste Partnership reaches a major milestone as the last container of TRU waste is emplaced in Room 1 Panel 7 of the WIPP underground.
November 23, 2022 – WIPP employees begin emplacing waste in Room 7 Panel 8 marking a new beginning for workers who no longer need to wear respirators and protective clothing due to the radioactive contamination in Panel 7 caused by the 2014 radiological event.
December 2022 – Amentum-led Nuclear Waste Partnership receives shipments and emplaces waste at a rate not seen since prior to the 2014 radiological event, signifying the end of WIPP recovery and return to normal operations underground.