2,150 feet underground for NMORR

Sunflowers grow alongside a saltwater evaporation pond at The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The saltwater pond is used to capture runoff as part of the mining process. A new pond was built adjacent to this using recovery funds. (Steven St. John)The sky reflects in a newly finished saltwater evaporation pond at The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The saltwater pond is used to capture runoff as part of the mining process. (Steven St. John)A construction worker walks across a highway under construction near The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The highway will increase access for trucks carrying nuclear waste to the WIPP. (Steven St. John)A construction crew works on a gate along the new highway under construction near The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The highway will increase access for trucks carrying nuclear waste to the WIPP. (Steven St. John)A construction crew works on a fence along the new highway under construction near The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The highway will increase access for trucks carrying nuclear waste to the WIPP. (Steven St. John)Workers wait for the elevator operator to drop them 2150 ft underground inside The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act accelerate nuclear waste cleanup. (Steven St. John)An employee waits for security doors to open 2150 ft underground inside The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act accelerate nuclear waste cleanup. (Steven St. John)2150 ft underground inside The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act accelerate nuclear waste cleanup. (Steven St. John)Radioactive waste is stored 2150 ft underground inside The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act accelerate nuclear waste cleanup. (Steven St. John)A worker checks electronics systems by headlamp 2150 ft underground inside The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act accelerate nuclear waste cleanup. (Steven St. John)A shadow falls on a wall containing stored radioactive waste 2150 ft underground inside The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act accelerate nuclear waste cleanup. (Steven St. John)Workers install a new secure equipment gate 2150 ft underground inside The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act accelerate nuclear waste cleanup. (Steven St. John)Signs on the corner of the mine walls 2150 ft underground inside The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Eddy County. WIPP received $172 million as part of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act accelerate nuclear waste cleanup. (Steven St. John)

Being a photographer has offered me many backstage pass opportunity’s, and getting to go 2,150 feet underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern NM was one of those opportunities I love. Most of the funds were being spent building a new road to the facility, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to go underground. Lighting was a great challenge here, as most of the area is pitch black aside from the headlamps. Scary dark. Creative use of off camera flash wasn’t just for fun, it was essential.

In 2010, along with fellow photographers Michael J. Gallegos, Mark Holm and Jake Schoellkopf, I was commissioned by the New Mexico Office of Recovery and Reinvestment to document how some of the stimulus dollars were spent around New Mexico. This is the first post is a series of six on the work I did for NMORR.

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