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Bechtel’s Impact Report

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

New Mexico, US
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Delivering permanent, safe disposal for defense-generated nuclear waste

The U.S. Department of Energy selected a Bechtel company to manage the nation’s only deep underground repository for nuclear waste: the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The site has been operating since 1999, receiving shipments from 22 sites across the country. 

DOE oversees WIPP, which is the nation’s only deep geologic repository for transuranic waste, or TRU waste. This defense-generated TUR waste consists of items contaminated with plutonium and other man-made radioactive isotopes. WIPP receives regular shipments from the generator sites and is responsible for emplacing the shipments in the repository. 

The repository is 2,100 feet below the surface and consists of underground tunnels and storage rooms. Sited in a bedded salt formation, the waste emplaced in disposal rooms at WIPP will be encapsulated in salt through natural geologic processes, safely isolating the waste for thousands of years. 

Aerial view of Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Aerial view of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant as a shipment arrives. (Department of Energy photo)

Bechtel has extensive expertise in the mining industry. SIMCO’s team brings world class leadership experience in mine construction, safety, and maintenance. The team brings cutting-edge design and operations knowledge, as well as methods and tools to improve safety, schedule, and cost.  

SIMCO’s mining experience is complemented by Bechtel’s 45 years’ experience managing Department of Energy nuclear sites in Washington state, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Key leaders at SIMCO have previous experience at many of the generator sites of TRU waste.

In the 1980’s Bechtel designed, engineered, and constructed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. The contract was delivered on time and saved the Department of Energy $120 million, or 20% of the entire project cost.

Workers place waste for final disposal.
Workers place waste for final disposal. (Department of Energy photo)

Ensuring the safe management of WIPP 

The Department of Energy has a goal to increase shipments to WIPP. Bechtel’s team is their partner in achieving this goal through management of WIPP operations and capital improvement projects. 

The focus of WIPP operations is safely managing the disposal, packaging, and transportation of shipments of TRU waste to WIPP. This includes responsible oversight of the Central Characterization Program and related experiment and testing activities. 

Capital improvment projects at WIPP include: 

  • Improving mine shaft ventilation
  • Completion of the utility shaft upgrades
  • Mining out new disposal panels 

Work continues on the utility shaft.
Work continues on the utility shaft. (Department of Energy photo)