CEMRC receives funding to continue radiological monitoring of WIPP site

The Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC) in the new Institute for Energy and Environment in the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University has received a $1.2M grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to continue another year of radiological monitoring of the DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico.  WIPP is a deep geologic repository site for transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste generated as part of the nuclear defense research and production activities of the federal government over the last 60 years (TRU waste is defined as having activity exceeding 100 nanocuries per gram of waste from alpha-emitting transuranic isotopes with half-lives greater than 20 years, e.g., Plutonium and Americium among other minor constituents).  WIPP has been operating for over seven years and, as of December of 2006, has disposed of 44,687 m3 of waste in 85,530 containers, the equivalent of 214,841 fifty-five gallon drums.  NMSU monitors people, air, water and soil at WIPP and in the surrounding region with respect to many radionuclides, volatile organic compounds, and other constituents.  NMSU’s monitoring over the past 10 years has shown no releases or adverse effects from WIPP operations. Recently, WIPP has begun accepting waste containing radionuclides that emit more penetrating gamma radiation, referred to as Remote Handled (RH) waste.  RH waste has surface exposures greater than 200 mrem/hr, so must be shielded and remotely handled.  It still must have activity concentrations greater than 100 nanocuries per gram of waste, but the upper limit is 23 Curie/liter.  This higher activity waste means NMSU’s role in monitoring is even more important as independent verification that the public and the environment are safe.

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