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  Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)

The Atomic Energy Commission began investigating salt beds as possible repository sites in the late 1950s. In the early 1970s, an abandoned salt mine in Lyons, Kansas was investigated as demonstration site for disposal of high-level waste and low-level waste, but there was opposition to the project at the state level and technical problems emerged, so that project was not pursued further. Local politicians in Carlsbad, NM then invited the Atomic Energy Commission to explore the extensive and deep salt beds near their community as a potential repository for high-level waste.

Exploratory work at that site, which would eventually become the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), began in 1974, and the first shipment of waste was received for disposal in 1999. In the 25 years between first exploration and first waste disposal, the State of New Mexico filed several lawsuits, Congress passed several different pieces of legislation to enable the project to move forward, restrictions were placed on the type of waste that could be emplaced (only defense transuranic waste can be emplaced; no spent fuel or high level waste may be disposed of there), the State of New Mexico was given the authority to regulate mixed waste at the WIPP, and the Environmental Protection Agency (not the Department of Energy) was designated as the agency to certify that the WIPP met applicable environmental standards. Although there were obstacles in the path to the successful licensing and opening of WIPP, some of the keys to success were a generally supportive host community and a state government that was willing to participate in the process.