Run by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (hereafter, the WIPP), is "the world's first underground repository licensed to safely and permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste
left from the research and production of nuclear weapons
." It is located in the remote Chihuahuan Desert
in Southeast New Mexico
. The first waste shipment, sealed in TRUPACT-II
containers, was received from Rocky Flats
on March 26, 1999
The WIPP has a maximum capacity of 6.2 million cubic feet of transuranic waste of no more than 5.1 million curies of radiation. At current rates, it should fill up in about 35 years. The WIPP has yet to have any problematic "incidents," which is something I think we can all be glad about. The transuranic waste is stored over 2000 feet beneath the Earth's surface, in a stable salt formation.
Far from simply being "just a nuclear dump," the WIPP is a scientific facility, doing research on the neutrino, alternative energy (solar and wind power), and there are even plans to build a particle accelerator on the site.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the WIPP is that, since it is already an active waste storage facility, it will be a poisoned part of the Earth for the next 10,000 years. The ancient Egyptians have nothing on us when it comes to cursed tombs.
In an attempt to help keep curiosity from killing the cat, the Sandia National Laboratories were given the problem of creating some sort of warning sign that would last for 10,000 years. Cultural anthropologists, linguists, scientists, and even designers were brought in to figure out how to say "Keep out" in a way that might make somebody take notice and heed it. The results are almost creepy.
For the first 100 years after being sealed, the WIPP will be guarded by the Department of Energy, however, construction will begin on passive methods of deterrence, in case the United States should fall into ruin during that century.
How do you build a wasteland? Most of the designs the groups came up with involve covering the ground with irregular broken rocks in order to hinder movement, and make it difficult to bring in equipment that might be used for digging or drilling, as a last resort. Also, giant spikes shooting out of the ground, like something out of a cheesy post-apocalyptic movie, create a forbidding atmosphere to the site.
Another design called for an empty field surrounded by massive "lightning bolts" laid out horizontally. This not only makes the site look foreboding from the air, but also effectively blocks the site of the horizon for someone standing within the field, removing a sense of place. The WIPP will be a nowhere.
Official website of the WIPP
Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant