CARLSBAD, N.M.—Officials at a nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad say the facility could continue accepting shipments through 2055 because the nation's need for contaminated materials storage will surpass its planned 2030 shutdown date.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's manager told lawmakers on a panel tasked with overseeing the $1.2 billion plant that it would undergo a five-year decommissioning process when it finally does close.

The plant accepts plutonium-contaminated waste like clothing, tools and other debris from defense projects. The waste is then buried in rooms cut from underground salt beds.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports ( http://bit.ly/1apIhH9) WIPP manager Farok Sharif says necessity probably would keep it open, because Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory and other defense-related nuclear facilities are still operating.

"Los Alamos isn't going to disappear by 2030," Sharif said at Tuesday's hearing.

Sharif and Joe Franco, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy's Carlsbad field office, outlined WIPP's operations for the committee.

WIPP currently receives 17 to 19 shipments each week from sites around the country. The sites include Los Alamos and installations in Idaho, Illinois and South Carolina. WIPP could handle 35 shipments of waste per week, and Franco said it was running close to that capacity when money from the federal stimulus plan was added to its budget.


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About 100 people were laid off when the stimulus money ran out, he said.

The plant that opened in 1999 would be demolished, not mothballed, Sharif said. The waste would be sealed in place.

WIPP can't accept non-defense nuclear waste unless Congress changes the law defining its mission.

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Information from: Carlsbad Current-Argus, http://www.currentargus.com/