Bechtel in $3bn contract to manage US underground radioactive-waste dump

The repository permanently stores plutonium-contaminated debris 655m underground in chambers mined from a geological salt formation. It is shown here taking its 10,000th shipment in 2011 (US Department of Energy/Public domain)
A Bechtel company has been selected by the US Department of Energy to manage and operate the country’s only deep underground repository for radioactive waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) some 30 miles south of Carlsbad, New Mexico in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The contract has a four-year base period and six one-year option periods. The estimated value is $3bn if the contract goes to full term.

Since 1999, WIPP has stored defence-related transuranic waste some 655m underground in chambers mined from a geological salt formation. Waste heading there 24 hours a day for permanent disposal consists of clothing, tools, rags and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements. It comes from 22 government sites across the US.

The Bechtel company is Bechtel National, its government services arm. It is joined in the WIPP contract by Los Alamos Technical Associates as a New Mexico-based small-business teaming subcontractor. The pair do business as Salado Isolation Mining Contractors (SIMCO).

SIMCO beat four other bidders for the contract, which arose from the September 30 expiration of the WIPP operating contract held by Nuclear Waste Partnership, comprising Amentum and BWX Technologies, Inc.

“The mission to safely dispose of defence-related nuclear waste is vitally important for protecting people and the planet,” said Dena Volovar, Bechtel National executive vice president. “We’re honored to be entrusted with this mission and look forward to joining the WIPP team and the Carlsbad community.”

Bechtel said its team would bring “world class mine construction, safety, and maintenance experience including cutting edge design and operations knowledge, and methods and tools to improve safety, schedule, and cost”.

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