MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations

Chronology of WIPP events
1972 to 2000

Updated September 2000

August 14, 1972 - Frank Pittman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) announces that the salt beds of southeastern New Mexico will host a $25 million pilot facility for commercial spent fuel.

1975 - Original site east of Carlsbad is abandoned, new site is chosen.

1976 - First two-year segregation of the WIPP site approved by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

April 1977 - Sandia Labs completes a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which describes WIPP as a two-level facility; at 2100 feet a level for contact-handled (CH) transuranic (TRU) waste and at 2600 feet a separate level for remote-handled (RH) TRU waste and high-level waste (HLW) experiments. This document is not released to the public until 1978 when SRIC files a Freedom of Information Act request.

1978 - DOE Task Force issues draft report and holds public hearings in New Mexico to discuss WIPP's purpose, including possible use as high-level waste (HLW) repository. Hundreds of citizens oppose WIPP. Environmental Evaluation Group (EEG) established. BLM issues second segregation order for the WIPP site.

1979 - In April, DOE issues a draft environmental impact statement (EIS). Hundreds of people testify against WIPP at public hearings on the EIS. In August, Rep. Harold Runnels holds congressional hearings in Carlsbad and Albuquerque. In December, Congress passes a bill that authorizes WIPP as a research and development facility.

1980 - On February 12, President Carter announces his nuclear waste policy and calls for WIPP to be cancelled. Congress refuses to cancel WIPP. In October, DOE issues the final EIS. The preferred alternative is to cancel WIPP and place TRU wastes in the first HLW repository. BLM issues third segregation to protect the site.

1981 - On January 22, DOE issues a Record of Decision (ROD) and announces that WIPP will open in 1986 and that by 1990 all existing TRU waste stored in Idaho will have been emplaced. Lawsuits are filed by Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD), NM Attorney General Jeff Bingaman, and SRIC. On July 1, the State and DOE settle their lawsuit, which includes signing a "Consultation and Cooperation" Agreement. The first shaft is drilled. On November 22, DOE strikes a large brine reservoir at WIPP-12, one mile north of the center of the site.

1982 - On March 30, BLM issues Public Land Order 6232, withdrawing 10,240 acres for eight years for the SPDV program.

1983 - DOE asks BLM to do a new withdrawal to allow WIPP construction and then completes the SPDV program. On June 29, BLM issues Public Land Order 6403 which allows WIPP construction, withdraws the site for eight years, and explicitly prohibits transportation, storage or disposal of wastes.

1987 - Land Withdrawal bills introduced in Congress.

1988 - At a September 13 congressional hearing, DOE announces that WIPP will not open the following month, as had been scheduled, and re-schedules the opening for 1989.

1989 - In April, DOE issues draft supplemental EIS for a "test phase." In June, DOE Secretary Watkins announces that WIPP will not open in 1989.

1990 - In January, the final SEIS is issued and on June 13 the ROD is released.

1991 - In October, Secretary Watkins announces that WIPP will open in a week to begin the Test Phase. NM Attorney General Tom Udall files suit. SRIC and other environmental groups and members of Congress intervene in the suit. A preliminary injunction is issued to prevent WIPP's opening.

1992 - On January 30, a permanent injunction is issued. DOE appeals, but the decision is upheld by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on July 10. In October, Congress passes the WIPP Land Withdrawal Act.

1993 - On October 21, DOE announces that the Test Phase is cancelled.

1996 - In September, the WIPP Act is amended and weakened; it includes a "sense of Congress" that WIPP open by November 1997, if health and safety requirements are met. In October, DOE submits its Compliance Certification Application (CCA) to EPA. In November, DOE issues its draft second supplemental EIS. Citizens across the nation testify in opposition to WIPP at public hearings.

1997 - In September, DOE issues the final SEIS-II. In October, EPA issues its proposed certification rule for public comment.

1998 - May 13, EPA announces its certification of WIPP and DOE Secretary Peña announces that the first waste shipment will go to WIPP by June 19. However, the 1991 lawsuit has delayed the opening indefinitely. The New Mexico Environment Department issues its draft RCRA permit on May 15 for a 90-day public comment period. On July 17, New Mexico Attorney General Udall, SRIC, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, and Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping file suits to strike down the EPA certification.

1999 – March 22, the judge denies a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent waste shipments to WIPP prior to issuance of the RCRA permit. March 26, first shipment arrives at WIPP from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). On April 27, a shipment leaves the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) and arrives at WIPP on April 28. On June 16, a shipment leaves the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology site and arrives at WIPP on June 17. On June 28, the D.C. Circuit Court upholds the EPA certification. On October 27, NMED Secretary Peter Maggiore issues the RCRA permit. On November 3, DOE files a lawsuit in federal district court in Albuquerque, asking that some of the permit provisions be stricken. On November 9, the last of 44 shipments arrives at WIPP. DOE states shipments are indefinitely suspended because of problems at Rocky Flats. Of the 44 shipments in 1999, 17 are from LANL, 4 from INEEL, and 23 from Rocky Flats. On November 15, SRIC and two individuals file a notice of appeal, challenging the permit in the New Mexico Court of Appeals. On November 16, DOE files a notice of appeal, challenging the permit in the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

2000 – March 9, NMED approves the final audit report for Rocky Flats, thereby allowing DOE to ship debris waste to WIPP under the RCRA permit. On March 10, a shipment of non-mixed waste leaves Rocky Flats and arrives at WIPP on March 11. On March 22, the federal district court judge in Albuquerque stays the DOE appeal of the RCRA permit for 120 days, while DOE requests that NMED modify the permit to address all of the DOE issues except financial assurance. On April 18, the New Mexico Court of Appeals also grants a 120-day stay of the DOE appeal while the permit modification process proceeds. On April 25, NMED approves a Class 1 modification to the permit to change condition IV.B.2.b., which limits mixed waste disposal in Panel 1. On May 2, SRIC and two individuals file in the New Mexico Court of Appeals, challenging the April 25 permit modification. On June 23, NMED approves the Hanford final audit report, thereby allowing debris waste to be shipped to WIPP. On July 12, the first shipment (1/6th of a full load) leaves Hanford; it arrives at WIPP on July 14. On July 17, NMED approves the final audit report for INEEL, thereby allowing debris waste to be shipped to WIPP. On July 25, NMED receives a permit modification request from DOE, asking to expand WIPP's surface storage facility and to allow waste drums to be opened at WIPP, something that DOE had previously said it would never do. By September 26, the end of the public comment period on the DOE modification request, more than 600 individuals and five citizen organizations representing about 10,000 people had written to NMED in opposition to the modification. On September 29, DOE withdrew the permit modification request, while stating that it would re-submit a similar request. As of September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year, a total of 90 shipments had arrived at WIPP since its opening.

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