Twenty-five years after it was first proposed, and a decade after its construction, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad, N.M., received its first truckload of nuclear debris. The world's first geologically engineered nuclear waste dump opened early on March 26, right after a federal judge lifted a seven-year-old injunction that had kept the facility shuttered (HCN, 7/6/98).
The first truck carried about 600
pounds of plutonium-tainted clothing, gloves, filters, coveralls
and metal cans from the Los Alamos National Laboratory 270 miles
southeast to Carlsbad. Unless opponents can secure another
injunction, 10 federal defense plants from around the nation will
send 37,000 truckloads to WIPP. The trucks will haul material left
over from Cold War-era nuclear bomb production lines.
DOE officials and their partisans were jubilant.
"We won the Cold War by building nuclear weapons, but we have not
cleaned up the legacy of the Cold War and its waste," Energy
Secretary Bill Richardson told The New York Times. "The opening of
this facility is a step to meeting this obligation."
Opponents vowed to keep fighting the project,
saying the federal government needs a state hazardous-waste permit
to open, even though its first few drums won't contain any
conventional hazardous wastes. But only handfuls of protesters
showed up along the WIPP route. One of the stalwarts, Santa Fe
businessman Richard Johnson, said, "I couldn't be sleeping when the
first truck went by after all this struggle."