November 19, 2014
Significant activities resume this week at WIPP
Two functions that are vital to recovery operations resumed this week at the WIPP site. Over the weekend, crews resumed roof bolting operations necessary for ground control and continued safe access to many areas of the underground facility. Roof bolts, sometimes as long as 12 feet, are inserted into predrilled holes and tightened to required specifications to help secure the roof and walls of the access routes in the underground facility. Under normal operations, roof bolts are added or replaced on a routine basis, as necessary. This is the first ground control activity to be performed since the two incidents that occurred in February. Bolting locations will be prioritized based on geotechnical engineering evaluations and recommendations.
The waste hoist has returned to limited service, while work continues towards making it fully operational. The hoist is currently being used to transport equipment in and out of the underground facility. Early this week the hoist was designated available for use as an “emergency egress” to evacuate the underground facility if necessary. Providing emergency egress has allowed for a significant increase in the number of workers that can be in the underground facility at one time. Based on the availability of the waste hoist for emergency egress, the number of employees who can be in the underground facility has increased from 24 to 74.
Idaho shipments arrive safely at Waste Control Specialists
Early this week, three shipments of contact-handled transuranic waste were transported from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to Waste Control Specialists (WCS) located near Andrews, TX. The waste, which originated at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was sent to INL for additional treatment more than a year ago. The waste meets the both the WIPP and WCS waste acceptance criteria and does not contain the “nitrate salts” thought to be associated with the February radiological event at WIPP. With the support of the State of Texas and WCS, the Department was able to move this waste and meet the milestones necessary to maintain compliance with the Idaho Settlement Agreement.
Community meeting scheduled
December 4 – The City of Carlsbad and DOE will co-host its Town Hall meeting featuring updates on WIPP recovery activities. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. Location: Carlsbad City Council Chambers, 101 N. Halagueno Street. Live streaming of the meeting can be seen at http://new.livestream.com/rrv/.
WIPP Recovery Plan details strategy for resuming operations by 2016
<click image above to view plan>
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Recovery Plan outlines the necessary steps to resume limited waste disposal operations in the first quarter of calendar year 2016. The plan includes the projected schedule and costs associated with resumption of waste emplacement at WIPP.
WIPP operations were suspended following an underground truck fire and a radiological release in February 2014. The recovery plan was issued on Sept. 30, 2014.
Did you know?
Transuranic, or TRU waste began accumulating in the 1940s with the beginning of the nation's nuclear defense program. As early as the 1950s, the National Academy of Sciences recommended deep disposal of long-lived TRU radioactive wastes in geologically stable formations, such as deep salt beds.
For more information about WIPP, see our Fact Sheets.
The nation's only deep geologic repository for nuclear waste
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is a deep geologic repository for permanent disposal of a specific type of waste that is the byproduct of the nation's nuclear defense program.
WIPP is the nation's only repository for the disposal of nuclear waste known as transuranic, or TRU, waste. It consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, soil and other items contaminated with small amounts of plutonium and other man-made radioactive elements. Disposal of transuranic waste is critical to the cleanup of Cold War nuclear production sites. Waste from DOE sites around the country is sent to WIPP for permanent disposal.
TRU waste is categorized as "contact-handled" or "remote-handled" based on the amount of radiation dose measured at the surface of the waste container. Contact-handled waste has a radiation dose rate not greater than 200 millirem (mrem) per hour, while remote-handled waste can have a dose rate up to 1,000 rem per hour. About 96 percent of the waste to be disposed at WIPP is contact-handled.
TRU waste is long-lived and has to be isolated to protect public health and the environment. Deep geologic disposal in salt beds was chosen because the salt is free of flowing water, easily mined, impermeable and geologically stable. Salt rock also naturally seals fractures and closes openings.
The WIPP site, located in southeast New Mexico about 26 miles from Carlsbad, was constructed in the 1980s for disposal of defense-generated TRU waste. The underground repository is carved out of a 2,000-foot-thick salt bed formed 250 million years ago. TRU waste is disposed of 2,150-feet underground in rooms mined from the salt bed.
WIPP has been disposing of legacy TRU waste since 1999, cleaning up 22 generator sites nationwide.