$500 million contract for plutonium waste disposal

The Energy Department has awarded a $500 million, five-year contract for the management and operation of the department’s long-term plutonium waste storage facility.

Westinghouse TRU Solutions LLC, a joint venture between Westinghouse Government Environmental Services Company LLC and Roy F Weston Inc. will assume responsibility for the operations of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) from the beginning of December. Key features of the contract include an agreement to retain the 1,000 strong workforce at comparable pay and benefits, and an option for an additional five years at the end of Westinghouse’s new contract.

“By holding an open competition, the department was able to challenge industry to bring their best ideas forward on actions needed to maintain and improve WIPP’s safety and operational efficiency,” said Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson. “We conducted a rigorous solicitation and selection process.”

The facility is located 26 miles east of Carlsbad in New Mexico, excavated into an ancient stable salt formation 2,150 feet (half a mile) underground, and has been used since March 1999 for the storage of transuranic (beyond uranium) waste. The waste consists of items contaminated with radioactive elements with an atomic number greater than that of uranium, including plutonium-contaminated items such as clothing, tools, rags, debris, and residues.

The Department of the Environment uses laboratory and field tests, along with computer modelling, to demonstrate WIPP’s environmental safety and validity as a permanent disposal solution for radioactive waste. The facilities waste transportation system is also monitored by a satellite tracking system, and has procedures set down for inclement weather, safe parking, and notification to the states, tribal and local authorities.

The new WIPP management will have to report to the Department of the Environment Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management in Washinton, DC, and will receive administrative support from the Department of the Environment’s Albuquerque Operations Office.

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