430 Environmental Monitoring of Nuclear Waste Repository Advances and the Challenges

Friday, November 6, 2009: 3:00 PM
Hereford (Camino Real Hotel)
K. Ui Chearnaigh , Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center, Carlsbad, NM
D. Baker , Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center, Carlsbad, NM
J. Monk , Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center, Carlsbad, NM
P. Thakur , Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center, Carlsbad, NM
T. Kirchner , Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center, Carlsbad, NM
J.L Conca , Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center, Carlsbad, NM
M. Akbarzadeh , WSMS Washington Safety Management Solutions, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Carlsbad, NM
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located approximately 30 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico is the world’s only deep geologic repository for the safe disposal of transuranic (TRU) wastes generated from the U.S. defense program. Environmental monitoring is a key component of the development and operation of a nuclear waste repository starting from the pre-operational through disposal to the closure and sealing. Several monitoring programs are ongoing at WIPP but in this work the focus is on the WIPP environmental monitoring (WIPP-EM) program conducted by the New Mexico State University, Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center. The WIPP–EM program is designed to monitor potential pathways that radionuclides and other contaminants could be released to the environment surrounding the WIPP. Under the WIPP-EM program we monitor air, drinking and surface water, soils, sediments, vegetations, and humans. The goal of the program is to determine if the local ecosystem has been, or is being, impacted by WIPP related operations.

This article presents an overview of the more than ten years of the environmental monitoring data that informed the public in the region that there is no evidence of increases in radiological contaminants that could be attributed to releases from WIPP. In addition to the monitoring data, this article also addresses the milestones and the challenges of the monitoring program. The success of such a monitoring program is important to boost public confidence and thereby to enhance public acceptance; where a locality’s “not in my-backyard” attitude could hinder the sitting of nuclear waste repository anywhere in the world.