RJ Lee Group’s Dr. James Conca, a nuclear waste disposal expert, toured the world’s only deep geologic nuclear repository, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant or WIPP, located in Carlsbad, NM as part of a team hosting the weekly TV news magazine “energyNOW!” Spotlight with correspondent Patrick Lee Sullivan. Dr. Conca explained that the facility, which just accepted its 10,000th shipment of nuclear waste, emits less radiation than you’d get with a dental x-ray. WIPP disposes of Transuranic (TRU) waste in salt caverns one-half mile underground. TRU waste is essentially bomb waste that includes the hats, boots, and tools used during the U.S. government’s weapons program, plus more radioactive waste like cements and sludges left over from reprocessing weapons reactor fuel. Dr. Conca told correspondent Lee that this salt is the best place to store nuclear waste. “The walls and ceilings of these salt caverns actually close in at a rate of 3 inches every year, Dr. Conca explained, “These drums will stay here [for 200 million years]. The salt will come around and encapsulate them . . . like a big natural trash compactor.” With much debate on where to locate a permanent site for high-level nuclear waste, WIPP has been suggested as a possible solution with space for all of our nation’s nuclear waste.
Dr. JAMES CONCA is a Senior Scientist with the RJLee Group in Richland, WA, in charge of nuclear development. Prior to coming to RJLG, he was Director of the NMSU Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center charged with the human health and environmental monitoring in the vicinity of WIPP. Conca came to NMSU from Los Alamos National Laboratory where he was Project Leader for Radionuclide Geochemistry for the Yucca Mountain Project. Before that, Conca was on the faculty at Washington State University Tri-Cities, and President of UFA Ventures, Inc. Conca obtained a Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1985, a Masters in Planetary Science from CalTech in 1981, and a BS in Geology and Biochemistry from Brown University in 1979. Because of Dr. Conca’s work on YMP and WIPP, and over 25 years in international high-level nuclear waste, DOE sometimes requests him to escort VIP tours through the WIPP facility.