Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Program

Cal OES coordinates with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), other state agencies and local governments regarding the transportation of radioactive wastes from defense-related facilities that conduct research, development and production of nuclear weapons. The wastes from these facilities consist of such items as laboratory clothing, tools, glove boxes, rubber gloves, glassware and air filters. These wastes are contaminated with small amounts of radioactive materials such as plutonium, americium or small amounts of hazardous chemicals.

DOE arranges for transportation of these wastes to a deep geologic disposal facility called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located 2,150 feet underground in southern New Mexico, 25 miles east of Carlsbad. Congress authorized construction of the WIPP in 1979 and DOE completed construction of the facility in the late 1980’s.

All WIPP waste shipments use extremely sturdy shipping casks that can hold the wastes in 55-gallon steel drums or boxes. The shipping casks have been constructed to withstand severe accidents without releasing their contents.

The DOE imposes rigorous driver and carrier performance requirements to ensure that only highly trained drivers and specially-equipped trucks are used for WIPP shipments. WIPP safety protocols include the use of trained drivers, truck and cask inspections, shipment tracking using satellite-based technology and communication systems, weather and road condition checks prior to departure, identification of safe parking areas on the route, route selection protocols, training for state and local emergency responders, and emergency response plans.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) inspects all shipments originating in California and escorts these shipments while in California. Prior to departure, trucks and casks must pass a rigorous vehicle safety inspection by highway patrol inspectors and DOE.

Emergency response training and radiological detection instruments have been provided to public safety personnel in counties along the WIPP-transit routes. Shipments are scheduled to avoid holidays and peak tourist events along routes.

US DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Radiological Materials on California Roads

​Radioactive materials, such as medical and industrial sources, are routinely transported in California. Additionally, there are many radioactive waste shipments that come from research and clean-up efforts at national laboratories. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) heavily regulate the transport of radioactive materials and wastes. These regulations require:

    • Use of special packaging based on the hazard of the shipment
    • Extensive worker training and documentation
    • Vehicle and package inspections of companies that ship radioactive materials
    • Use of specific, controlled routes

Shipments of highly radioactive materials (such as spent or used nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear power plants) require heavy shielding in the casks used for transport in order to limit radiological exposure to nearby workers or people. At this time, there are no shipments of spent or used nuclear fuel planned.

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Planned Route

The DOE plans to use a northern route from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to WIPP via local road to I-580 N, northeast of Livermore, CA. The route follows a northeasterly direction via I-580, I-205, I-5 and I-80 to the California/Nevada state line.

California WIPP Route Map for I-80

Equipment and Training

Cal OES provides for the procurement of and training on radiological monitoring and detection equipment issued to local government first responders along the DOE WIPP transportation routes. 

Just-in-Time Training Videos

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Paul Hoffer

Paul Hoffer

Senior Emergency Services Coordinator

Office: (916) 845-8768
Email: Paul.Hoffer@CalOES.ca.gov