View news, recent information and links to WIPP compliance and rulemaking activities from 2014 to present. Updates and information related to EPA's role at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) will be posted to this page as they are available.
Documents and related news items from 2013 and earlier are located in the EPA Archives.
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- WIPP 700-C Fan Restart Information
- Receipt of the WIPP 2019 CRA & Opening of the Official Comment Period
- Biennial Environmental Compliance Report (2016-2018)
- WIPP 2014 CRA – Recertification Decision
- WIPP 2014 CRA – Official Completeness Determination
- Informal Stakeholder Webinar – 2014 WIPP CRA (Completeness Determination)
- WIPP Interim Ventilation System (IVS) Approval
- Radiological Event at the WIPP (February 2014)
- Panel Closure Redesign Planned Change Request – Final Rule (September 2014)
In December 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) notified the EPA that they are planning to restart one of their legacy exhaust fans–the 700-C– to provide increased airflow to the WIPP underground. The fan was initially suspended after the WIPP radiological incident in 2014.
The fan will exhaust unfiltered air from the WIPP underground, and portions of the underground which have very low levels of contamination--below any level of public health concern--will be ventilated by the fan directly to the atmosphere. The Department has already conducted preliminary investigations related to any potential radiological releases caused by operation of the fan related to the workforce, the public and the environment. This suite of information, in addition to responses to stakeholder questions related to the fan restart, can be found at the DOE’s website below:
The DOE has sent the Agency a projected schedule, responses to EPA’s initial questions, as well as supplemental information related to the 700-C fan restart.
Though the Department initially projected that testing of the fan would commence in mid-to-late December 2020, the DOE recently announced that this testing is now expected to be conducted the week of January 11, 2021.
The EPA will continue to review and evaluate all of the DOE’s documentation on the fan restart. We will update our website as soon as new information becomes available.
Receipt of the WIPP 2019 CRA & Opening of the Official Comment Period
On March 19, 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officially submitted the fourth Compliance Recertification Application (CRA) for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) to the EPA. This step initiated the recertification process required by Congress. Recertification is a process to verify that changes at the facility in the preceding five-year period comply with the Agency's disposal standards for radioactive waste. A Federal Register notice announcing receipt of the application, as well as the official opening of the public comment period and electronic docket for this action, was published on September 25, 2019. To view the aforementioned notice or to submit comments, please visit the link below (via www.regulations.gov):
Links to the DOE’s full application as well as additional information on the 2019 CRA can be found on our Certification and Recertification of WIPP webpage.
Section 9 of the 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act (LWA) specifies that every two years the DOE must demonstrate that the WIPP facility complies with applicable Federal laws pertaining to public health and safety of the environment, including the regulations and permit requirements under such laws. This report is submitted to the EPA as the Biennial Environmental Compliance Report (BECR). Under the WIPP LWA, EPA is mandated to review the information and determine compliance or non-compliance during the reporting period.
After thorough review, the EPA has concluded that, for the reporting period of April 1, 2016, through March 31, 2018, the WIPP has remained in compliance with applicable environmental Federal laws and regulations. The letter from the EPA Administrator, along with all related correspondence and supplemental information, can be found in our docket at the following link:
The EPA anticipates to receive the 2018-2020 BECR from the DOE in late Fall 2020 and will make a determination sometime in 2021.
WIPP 2014 CRA – Recertification Decision
On March 26, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officially submitted the third Compliance Recertification Application (CRA) to EPA. This step initiated the recertification process required by Congress. Recertification is a process to verify that changes at the facility in the preceding five-year period comply with EPA's disposal standards for radioactive waste.
On July 13, 2017, EPA officially recertified the DOE’s WIPP facility, confirming that it continues to comply with the agency's radioactive waste disposal regulations at 40 CFR Part 191, Subparts B and C, as well as with WIPP Compliance Criteria at 40 CFR Part 194. EPA based its recertification decision on a thorough review of information submitted by DOE, independent technical analyses, and public comments. All of the documents related to the Agency's recertification decision are available through the EPA WIPP Dockets.
To view the recertification decision and all supplemental information on the CRA-2014, please see: Certification and Recertification of WIPP.
WIPP 2014 CRA – Official Completeness Determination
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached its completeness determination on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2014 WIPP Compliance Recertification Application (CRA). A Federal Register notice was published on March 10, 2017, which includes text of the letter sent to the Secretary of Energy on January 13, 2017. The FR notice (in Adobe PDF format) can be viewed at:
Completeness is an administrative step that indicates that the DOE has provided information relevant to each applicable provision of the WIPP Compliance Criteria and in sufficient detail for us to proceed with a full technical evaluation of the adequacy of the application. Please note that the completeness determination does not imply or indicate that the CRA demonstrates compliance with the Compliance Criteria and/or the Disposal Regulations. According to the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act, the EPA will make a recertification decision within six months of determining the application is complete.
Upon receipt of the CRA on March 24, 2014, the Agency immediately began its review to determine whether the CRA was complete. Shortly thereafter, the Agency began to identify areas of the CRA-2014 that required supplementary information and analyses from the DOE. Additional information on the CRA-2014 can be found on our Certification and Recertification of WIPP webpage.
The EPA will be accepting comments up to 30 days after the publication date of the notice (April 10, 2017). The Agency is most interested in whether new or changed information has been appropriately incorporated into performance assessment calculations for WIPP, and whether the potential effects of changes are properly characterized.
Informal Stakeholder Webinar – 2014 WIPP CRA (Completeness Determination)
The EPA will be hosting an informal webinar session for the public to provide comments and ask questions regarding the 2014 WIPP CRA – specifically concerning the upcoming completeness determination on the application. The Agency has reserved hosting locations in both Carlsbad and Albuquerque for interested stakeholders to attend in New Mexico. The webinar will be held jointly (with both locations patched in via Adobe Connect) on Thursday, January 12th, from 1:00 - 4:00 PM (MST):
New Mexico State University - Carlsbad
1500 University Drive
Carlsbad, NM 88220
University of New Mexico - Albuquerque
Student Union Building Fiesta A & B
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001
For any members of the public that are unable to attend the hosting locations, you may also participate remotely via Adobe Connect and conference line with the following details:
Conference #: 1-866-299-3188
Conference code: 2023439201#
WIPP Interim Ventilation System (IVS) Approval
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completed its review of work undertaken by the Department of Energy (DOE) to qualify Station B for sampling facility exhaust from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). Based on information supplied by DOE and a subsequent EPA inspection held on April 26-27, 2016, the Agency finds that with the Interim Ventilation System (IVS) added to the existing Underground Ventilation and Filtration System (UVFS), air samples taken at Station B will continue to accurately represent facility exhaust for the purposes of compliance with the public dose limits found at 40 CFR part 191, Subpart A and 40 CFR part 61, Subpart H.
View correspondence between EPA and DOE regarding the interim and supplemental ventilation systems, as well as the inspection report from April 2016, on the WIPP Interim Ventilation System (IVS) Approval Documents page.
Radiological Event at the WIPP (February 2014)
Panel Closure Redesign Planned Change Request – Final Rule (September 2014)
On September 30, 2014, EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, Janet McCabe, signed the final rule approving the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) planned change request to implement the Run-of-Mine Salt Panel Closure System (ROMPCS) at the WIPP. This final action modifies a small portion of the WIPP Compliance Criteria (40 CFR Part 194, Appendix A, Condition 1). Rather than installing concrete monoliths and mortared explosion walls (the previously required Option D design), this newly approved panel closure system will make use of mined salt backfill and steel bulkheads to permanently seal waste panels in the repository.
All previous news and information updates related to the planned change request can be found below.
On December 3, 2013, the EPA published a Federal Register Notice proposing to approve the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) planned change request to implement the Run-of-Mine Salt Panel Closure System (ROMPCS) at the WIPP. The proposed action will modify a small portion of 40 CFR Part 194 (the WIPP Compliance Criteria), Appendix A, Condition 1, to allow an EPA-approved panel closure other than the currently-required Option D design. Rather than utilizing Option D – which requires the installation of concrete monoliths and mortared explosion walls – the new design will make use of mined salt backfill and steel bulkheads to seal waste panels in the repository.
The Agency verified the DOE-provided technical analyses demonstrating that the WIPP containment requirements of 40 CFR Part 191.13 continue to be met with the modified panel closure design. These limits ensure the isolation of transuranic waste from the accessible environment over the 10,000-year regulatory period. The proposed changes reduce costs and impacts on current and future waste emplacement activities. However, they do not lessen the requirements for complying with the Compliance Criteria, nor do these changes impact the technical approach that the EPA will employ when considering any future planned changes to the panel closure system.
The FR notice announcing the proposed rule and accompanying supplemental information can be found in the Agency's official docket, EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0684. The 60-day comment period closed on February 3, 2014.
The EPA held two public meeting sessions in New Mexico related to the Agency's recent proposed rule regarding DOE's panel closure redesign planned change request. With the formal public formal comment period still underway, the purpose of these meetings was to gather comments from members of the public on the proposed rulemaking and to provide a facilitated forum for clarifying questions. Staff from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) were in attendance. The details for the meetings were as follows:
Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - Carlsbad, New Mexico
U.S. Department of Energy, Carlsbad Field Office
Skeen-Whitlock Building, Main Auditorium
4021 National Parks Highway
1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Thursday, January 23, 2014 - Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque Embassy Suites Hotel & Spa, Sandia Ballroom VI-VIII
1000 Woodward Place NE
Albuquerque, NM 8710
1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
There were also two informal public meetings held in Carlsbad and Albuquerque, NM in 2012 to get preliminary comments and input from members of the public in advance of the rulemaking and its associated public meetings. Staff from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) were on hand to answer any stakeholder questions/concerns. The logistics for both meetings in Carlsbad and Santa Fe were as follows:
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - Carlsbad, New Mexico
U.S. Department of Energy, Carlsbad Field Office
Skeen-Whitlock Building, Main Auditorium
4021 National Parks Highway
9:30 AM – 1:00 PM
Thursday, December 6, 2012 - Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Mexico Environment Department, Harold L. Runnels Building, Auditorium
1190 St. Francis Drive
9:30 AM - 1:00 PM
On September 28, 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided a planned change request for panel closure redesign, which would modify Condition 1 of the Final WIPP Certification Decision for 40 CFR Part 194.
After 12 years of operating experience, DOE has acquired considerable experience and knowledge regarding the behavior of the WIPP repository, along with the nature and behavior of disposed transuranic (TRU) waste. In EPA's 1998 WIPP Certification Decision, the Agency listed a number of conditions - one of which was that the panel closure system (PCS) to be used in WIPP be "Option D," as specified in DOE's Compliance Certification Application (CCA). This option specified that certain components be constructed using Salado Mass Concrete (SMC).
After numerous large scale tests, DOE states that SMC cannot meet the design and performance requirements for the panel closures as specified in the CCA. Since results from monitoring for explosive gases in the closed panels has established that the measured concentrations of methane and hydrogen will remain below the lower limits through the operational period, the Department has submitted a new panel closure design - the Run-of Mine Panel Closure (ROMPC).
The Department submitted a performance assessment (PA) for the proposed panel closure redesign as part of their documentation package. The results of the PA show that WIPP will remain in compliance with all disposal requirements 40 CFR Part 191, Subparts B and C, and essentially have the same performance as the original Option D design.
The EPA sent the DOE a series of comments related to the initial proposal, and the Department has responded with supplemental information on the panel closure redesign and associated performance assessment (PCS-2012 PA).