WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant)

Having an assistant when shooting here is a must.The WIPP safely disposes of the nation's defense-related transuranic radioactive waste. WIPP is located in the Chihuahuan Desert, outside Carlsbad, NM. WIPP began disposal operations in March 1999. WIPP is a U.S. Department of Energy facility.

I was contracted by an engineering firm to document the underground disposal of the radioactive waste being shipped to WIPP from around the country. When I first received the call for this assignment, my first thought about the waste was that of old fuel rods or something like that. Where in fact, the waste takes the form of old gloves, tools, clothing and other items that may have been exposed to radioactive materials in the process of making nuclear weapons.

Shipments are received by truck from various places like, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Rocky Flats, Lawrence Livermore Nat. Lab, etc. WIPP has received over 6000 such shipments to date. This waste is stored underground about 1/2 mile down in the Permian Salt Formation. The disposal rooms are roughly 33 feet wide, 500 feet long, and about 15 feet in height.

The really radioactive stuff is placed into horizontal boreholes in the disposal room walls. The other less radioactive stuff is stored in the open rooms in barrels and other types of containers.

Shooting underground is no easy task! Conditions can run the gambit. Dirty, cold, hot, wet, dusty and down right miserable