On 13 May, the Environmental Protection Agency certified the ability of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a repository for transuranic waste 12 miles outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, to operate safely and protect the public against radiation exposure.

But as we went to press two further issues were delaying start of waste shipments to the facility, the USA’s first deep underground repository.

First, New Mexico Attorney General Tom Udall has asked a district court in Washington, DC, to uphold a 1992 injunction against shipments to the site on the grounds that the injunction had never been withdrawn. Udall originally obtained the 1992 injunction as part of the old debate over transfer of land on which WIPP is located to federal government. Congress legislated to resolve this issue but Udall claims the injunction was never withdrawn.

Second is an 11th hour move by New Mexico Department of Environment, which has decided that it is not satisfied that waste to be shipped to WIPP from Los Alamos will not contain mixed waste. Permits to store mixed waste would require public hearings.

WIPP would store transuranic waste in rooms carved out of an ancient, stable salt formation 2150 feet underground.

Westinghouse’ Waste Isolation Division manages the WIPP facility for a DOE.