Delay of Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), A Nuclear Waste Repository, Until Safety Is Assured

  • Date: Jan 01 1989
  • Policy Number: 8918

Key Words: Nuclear Waste, Energy, Research, Environmental Protection Agency

The American Public Health Association,

Having adopted 13 policy statements regarding radiation hazards since 1954;1-13 and

Providing leadership in efforts to monitor and abate radiation hazards for more than 30 years; and

Noticing with alarm the attempt by the US Department of Energy (DoE) to rush the opening of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Loving, New Mexico before there are Environmental Protection Agency standards promulgated to address the siting and operation of nuclear waste repository facilities;14 and

Noting that DoE internal testing has found an unforseen brine seepage that may compromise the suitability of the entire site,15-17 the WIPP site was specifically selected because it was thought to contain dry salt beds. Persistent water seepage through the salt formation will result in a rapid corrosive effect on the metal drums in which the waste is stored;1 and

Knowing that all of the studies and modeling for site safety were based on burial in a dry salt formation and are invalid for a site with seepage;19 and

Understanding that there is no completely safe mechanism to transport nuclear waste and that the DoE selection of truck transport constitutes a potential health hazard to large numbers of people;19 and

Finding that the environmental impact statement for WIPP states that even "in normal transport ... Population groups exposed to these low levels of radiation would include those who handle waste packages, people working in the vicinity of the packages, bystanders, passing motorists, and train passengers";19 and

Recognizing that 1,607 radioactive waste shipments planned for transport to the WIPP site, in the first three years of operation, will pass through at least 23 states and constitute a potentially significant national health hazard; therefore,

  1. Urges the Department of Energy to delay the opening of WIPP until its safety is assured by federal health agencies independent of the Department of Energy;
  2. Urges the Department of Energy to immediately carry out the baseline health studies it has promised those communities close to the proposed WIPP site. These studies must be completed prior to the storage of any waste and shall be performed by persons independent of the Department of Energy;
  3. Calls upon the Congress to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and implement, with public involvement, standards that assure the safe operation of nuclear waste repositories; and
  4. Urges Congress to mandate the development of technology and procedures for the safe transport of nuclear waste, which includes containers that pass DoE and independent laboratory testing, prohibit the transport of nuclear waste trucks through populous areas, and mandate use of alternate/bypass routes around population centers.


  1. American Public Health Association: Resolution No. 5409: Support for Training Radiological Health Personnel. APHA Public Policy Statements, 1948 to present, cumulative. Washington, DC: APHA, current volume.
  2. Op Cit. Resolution No. 5604: Protection from Radiologic Hazards.
  3. Op Cit. Resolution No. 5703: Radiologic Health Programs.
  4. Op Cit. Resolution No. 5811: Responsibility for Protection against Radioactive Substances.
  5. Op Cit. Resolution No. 5906: Legal Responsibility.
  6. Op Cit. Resolution No. 6108: Fallout Shelter Standards.
  7. Op Cit. Resolution No. 6107: Increased Radiological Monitoring of Public Water Supplies.
  8. Op Cit. Resolution No. 7207: Dose Reduction from the Utilization of X-Ray Procedures.
  9. Op Cit. Resolution No. 7308: Elimination of Non-Health Related X-Ray Exposure to Patients.
  10. Op Cit. Resolution No. 7909: Nuclear Power.
  11. Op Cit. Resolution No. 8117: Nuclear War and Nuclear Weapons.
  12. Op Cit. Resolution No. 8124: Nuclear Accident Liability.
  13. Op Cit. Resolution No. 8214: Reaction to the Attack in the Nuclear Freeze Movement.
  14. US Senate: Report (To accompany S.1272), Minority Views of Mr. Metzenbaum, Senate Report 100-522, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Landwithdrawal Act of 1988, September 22, 1988. Washington, DC: GPO, 1988.
  15. Evaluation of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) as a Water-Saturated Nuclear Waste Repository, Scientists Review Panel on WIPP, Albuquerque, New Mexico, January 1988.
  16. Letter to Office of Earth Sciences, National Academy of Sciences from E-an Zen (and 15 other scientists). Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior, Geological Survey, May 17, 1978.
  17. Statement on Repository Brine Issue, Environmental Evaluation Group, State of New Mexico, to Radioactive Waste Task Force meetings of January 13 and April 19, 1988.
  18. Nowack EJ: Assessment of Brine Inflow to WIPP Disposal Rooms, Sandia National Laboratory, January 13, 1988.
  19. US Department of Energy: Environmental Impact Statement, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, October 1980 and April 1989, DOE/EIS-0026, DOE/EIS-0026-DS.
  20. Darrough ME: Siting a High-Level Radioactive Waste Repository Implications for Public Health, Salt Repository Project Office, Department of Energy, presented at APHA Annual Meeting, September 30, 1986.

Back to Top