WASHINGTON -- U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said Friday the first-ever shipment of defense-related nuclear waste arrived safely at the Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M.
The shipment of transuranic waste -- clothes, tools, rags and other disposable items contaminated with radioactive elements -- took eight hours to truck across the state of New Mexico from DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory to the WIPP site 26 miles east of Carlsbad.Environmentalists had sought to block the shipment, continuing a protracted legal struggle against the DOE plan, by seeking a last-minute injunction, but the courts ruled that WIPP's opening should not be delayed.
The truck carrying the waste avoided passing through the city of Santa Fe via a specially-built relief road. The WIPP site consists of disposal rooms excavated in an ancient salt formation 2,150 feet underground.
"This shipment to WIPP represents the beginning of fulfilling the long-overdue promise to all Americans to safely clean up the nation's cold war legacy of nuclear waste and protect generations to come," Richardson said in a statement.
Richardson said transuranic waste began accumulating in the 1940s with the beginning of the nation's nuclear weapons program.
"Our numerous performance assessments have consistently found that the site will be low risk, and will safely isolate these wastes for at least 10,000 years," Richardson said.
"There is no question in my mind that WIPP, the trucks that transport the waste, and our route selections are exceedingly safe," he said.