- Management and Operations
For almost 25 years, URS has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to solve the nationís nuclear waste problem by helping to design, test and build a facility to dispose of transuranic, or TRU, waste. The waste began accumulating in the1940's with the onset of the U.S. nuclear defense program.
Today, URS manages and operates the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which is located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico. WIPP is the nationís solution for permanently disposing of DOEís Cold War legacy transuranic waste that has been stored at 23 former nuclear-weapons-complex sites in 13 states. Operational since March 26, 1999, URS employees have disposed of almost 7,000 shipments, or 56,000 meters, of TRU waste.
Transuranic waste consists of clothing, tools, rags, debris, residues and other disposable items contaminated with radioactive elements, mostly plutonium. Over the next 35 years, the facility is expected to receive approximately 37,000 shipments of TRU waste.
The waste is disposed in rooms mined 2,150 feet underground within a 2,000-foot-thick salt formation that has been stable for millions of years. By comparison, the Empire State Building is only 1,454 feet high. There are several advantages to disposing of TRU waste at WIPP: the salt's depth provides a good natural barrier to contain the radioactive waste; its plasticity (the ability of mined salt to close in on itself and cocoon the waste) provides additional containment; its thermal properties dissipate any heat generated by the waste; and the absence of existing boreholes in the area ensure that radioactive gases or liquids cannot make their way into the overlying aquifer or to the surface.