Cover image for Nuclear reactions : the politics of opening a radioactive waste disposal site
Nuclear reactions : the politics of opening a radioactive waste disposal site
McCutcheon, Chuck, 1963-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xi, 231 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
"A way ... to make a buck" 1971-76: Carlsbad and WIPP -- "This is not a predictable situation" 1975-78: opposition emerges in New Mexico -- "An equal partner" 1978-81: Congress, New Mexico seek control -- "I'm not in the garbage business anymore" 1981-88: Idaho, "plutonium poker, " and opening WIPP -- "I love WIPP!" 1989: an admiral at the helm -- "No discernible scientific basis" 1990-92: underground testing, Congress, and scientific doubt -- "A major break" 1993-96: canceling testing, preparing for disposal -- "This is indeed historic" 1997-2001: after fighting his own state, Richardson opens WIPP.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TD898.12.N6 M38 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located beneath the desolate flatlands near Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico, is the first facility of its kind in the world--the most elaborate and expensive landfill opened to date that permanently houses mankind's deadliest garbage.

The project is intended to entomb, in a salt formation 2,150 feet underground, four decades' worth of protective gloves, clothing, and other items contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive materials used in building nuclear weapons. The nuclear waste--enough to fill more than sixty-five football fields--is sent to WIPP from U.S. Department of Energy sites in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, Washington, and elsewhere. The plant is regarded both as a coda to the Cold War legacy of weapons production and as a prototype for future environmental cleanup projects.

Although WIPP has won widespread scientific and political support, it has been a quagmire of conflicting views about national energy policy. Technical and environmental questions dogged it long before being built, and debates over its use have continued since its opening in 1999. This book marks the first effort to trace WIPP's evolution comprehensively and impartially, from its earliest days as the brainchild of a group of local residents eager to create jobs through two decades of scientific studies, political decisions, environmental protests, and court challenges. It includes interviews with and character sketches of politicians, environmentalists, and scientists and explores the lessons that this hotly divisive project can teach us.

Author Notes

Chuck McCutcheon is a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C., specializing in energy and national security issues

Reviews 1

Choice Review

McCutcheon, a professional journalist specializing in energy and national security issues, traces comprehensively and impartially the evolution of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) project through two decades of extensive scientific study, numerous political actions, environmental projects, and court challenges. WIPP is located beneath the desolate and remote flatlands of southeastern New Mexico and is designed to entomb radioactive waste materials in underground rock salt. McCutcheon traces the political, scientific, economic, and cultural processes involved from inception of the concept by local residents to the final opening of the complex in 1999. He neither advocates nor opposes WIPP but sheds light on the protracted processes involved and the lessons to be learned. The volume takes a balanced approach: it includes interviews with politicians, environmentalists, and scientists representing both sides of WIPP's development. The documentation and reference material are a rich source for those interested in current efforts to handle nuclear wastes. The volume is well organized, provides important information related to nuclear waste management, and raises issues of vital concerns for proper disposal of nuclear waste materials. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower- and upper-division undergraduates; faculty; professionals. D. A. Johnson Spring Arbor University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
Chronologyp. ix
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 "A Way ... to Make a Buck" 1971-76: Carlsbad and Wippp. 15
Chapter 2 "This Is Not a Predictable Situation" 1975-78: Opposition Emerges in New Mexicop. 37
Chapter 3 "An Equal Partner" 1978-81: Congress, New Mexico Seek Controlp. 59
Chapter 4 "I'm Not in the Garbage Business Anymore" 1981-88: Idaho, Plutonium Poker, and Opening Wippp. 82
Chapter 5 "I Love WIPP!" 1989: An Admiral at the Helmp. 105
Chapter 6 "No Discernible Scientific Basis" 1990-92: Underground Testing, Congress, and Scientific Doubtp. 125
Chapter 7 "A Major Break" 1993-96: Canceling Testing, Preparing for Disposalp. 149
Chapter 8 "This Is Indeed Historic" 1997-2001: After Fighting his Own State, Richardson Opens Wippp. 172
Epiloguep. 193
Notep. 201
Indexp. 225