WIPP Update

August 19, 2014

Underground facility entry requirements modified at WIPP

Entries into the WIPP underground facility are becoming more frequent, a sign that recovery efforts are progressing.  Recently, radiological control personnel began conducting the surveys and sampling necessary to reclassify areas in the underground facility from areas of potential airborne contamination to radiological buffer areas.  A buffer area is an uncontaminated area immediately adjacent to the contaminated area and is usually located at the exit or entrance point of the contamination zone.   The initial areas being surveyed, sampled and reclassified were near the shaft locations where employees enter and exit the underground facility before moving deeper into the mine.  Employees can now enter these areas of underground facility without breathing protection (i.e. respirators).  However, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is still required when entering contaminated areas.

The underground facility has been separated into “zones” and each zone will be surveyed, sampled and verified before being released for occupancy without PPE.  This will allow underground personnel to begin maintenance activities, including cleaning and maintaining equipment located in the underground facility.  It will also allow the necessary ground control activities to ensure the underground facility remains safe and secure as work resumes.

Community meetings scheduled

August 21  – The City of Carlsbad and DOE will co-host its Town Hall meeting featuring updates on WIPP recovery activities. The meeting is scheduled 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/.

Work continues to obtain video footage in Room 7

In an effort to gather additional information on the waste containers located in Panel 7, Room 7, WIPP is planning a 90 foot adjustable boom as seen in the above graphic.

To date, visual inspection of the room's 24 rows of waste containers has been limited to rows 15 to 24. The system will allow recovery teams to examine the waste containers in rows 1 -14, those that are the furthest back in the room.

Did you know?

WIPP is the only federal repository for the nation's transuranic (or TRU) waste. Since beginning operations in 1999, WIPP has cleaned up legacy TRU waste from 22 Department of Energy generator sites.

For more information about WIPP, see our Fact Sheets.

About WIPP

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.

CH and RH WasteWIPP 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.