WIPP Recovery 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. 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.
Key elements of the recovery plan include strengthening safety programs, regulatory compliance, decontamination of the underground, increasing ventilation, mine stability and underground habitability, and additional workforce retraining. Additionally, findings and recommendations from the investigations of both the truck fire and the radiological release will be incorporated into WIPP actions moving forward.
Below are some key elements of WIPP's phased recovery plan and reports from the Department of Energy's Accident Investigation Board for both events.
Recovery Plan - Phase I
Returning WIPP to normal operations will be a long, multi-step process. The focus continues to be on the actions necessary to keep the public, environment, and employees safe; mitigate the radiation source; and restore operations.
- Isolate ventilation flow-through: Two 10-foot wide bypass dampers, which allowed limited airflow to bypass HEPA filters, were sealed with high-density foam.
- Lower monitoring instruments into the salt and air intake shafts: Data from the monitors showed no radiological contamination in the area of the shafts underground and established safe habitability for personnel entries.
- Personnel re-entry teams descend into the mine: Multiple personnel entries have been completed. The initial entry consisted of two eight-person teams. The teams surveyed conditions from the Salt Shaft Station to the Air Intake Shaft Station to establish two usable egress locations — a requirement for future underground work. The teams confirmed communications (mine pager phone and regular telephone) with the aboveground base station. Lastly, the teams established an underground base of operations and a clean area for team members to change into or remove protective suits and equipment as they enter and leave the mine.
- Personnel re-entry teams continue further into the mine: The teams continued to survey conditions of the mine while moving southward toward the suspected release location. A smaller three-person team reached Panel 7, Room 7, where a breached waste container from Los Alamos National Laboratory was identified. The DOE established a Technical Assistance Team of experts from across its national laboratories to review photos and video, as well as samples of debris, taken by entry teams in order to determine the cause of the radiological release.
- Replace contaminated filters: For operations to continue, a properly functioning ventilation system is required. Ventilation system filters in the two filtration units have been replaced.
Recovery Plan - Phase II
- Mitigate the contamination source: Mitigation of the contamination source will be accomplished according to a plan developed from the knowledge gained during Phase I entries.
- Restore conditions that will support operations: This includes radiological characterization and posting; ground control activities (e.g., bolting) for mine safety; equipment and systems maintenance, cleaning, and upgrades.
Status: In progress
- Incorporate corrective actions: Lessons learned from the fire and radiological event are being used to enhance programs and procedures prior to resuming operations.
Status: In progress throughout the recovery process
Accident Investigation Boards
As a result of the February events -- the February 5 salt haul truck fire and the February 14 radiological release -- the Department of Energy (DOE) established two Accident Investigation Boards (AIB) to assess the WIPP safety systems programs and processes at the federal and contractor levels. These investigations include analysis of training and qualifications, maintenance, and emergency management response to the events.
The AIBs use a rigorous process to investigate events that had, or potentially could have had, a negative impact on employees, the public or the environment. The DOE Carlsbad Field Office and its contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, made every aspect of WIPP operations available to the investigation teams.
The AIBs develop Judgments of Need (JON) that form the basis for corrective actions designed to prevent the recurrence of events. DOE Headquarters, the Carlsbad Field Office and Nuclear Waste Partnership will develop and implement these corrective actions as part of the recovery process.
The AIB report on the haul truck fire was released March 7, 2014. To view the report, click on the following link.
The AIB report on the February 14 radiological event is being issued in two phases. Phase I focuses on the release of radioactive material from the underground to the environment and the follow-on response to the release. The Phase I AIB Report was released April 24. To view the report, click on the following link.
- Accident Investigation Report on February 14 Radiological Event (Phase 1)
- Accident Investigation Summary Slides
The Phase 2 report will be focused on determining the direct cause of the release of the material. A release date is yet to be determined.
Other Plans and Submittals
On May 30, 2014, the Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership submitted the WIPP Nitrate Salt Bearing Waste Container Isolation Plan to the New Mexico Environment Department, as required by Administrative Order 05-20001. To view this report, click on the following links.
Mine Safety and Health Administration
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) performs periodic inspections of the WIPP facility. The MSHA inspection information is available through the Mine Data Retrieval System. Instructions for accessing MSHA inspection information for WIPP are as follows:
1. Use this link to the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s website http://www.msha.gov/
2. Find “Data Transparency at MSHA" in the left hand column
3. Type in the WIPP mine number – 2901857 and hit enter or click on “go”
4. On the “Report Selection Page” choose “Inspections” to access violations and status by inspection date or “Violations” to access a list of all violations, the regulatory citations and the dates they were terminated.
Please recognize that a delay may occur between MSHA follow-up visits and when the data is updated to reflect closure or termination of a citation.
Media Contact for Recovery
U.S. Department of Energy
WIPP Recovery Communications
P.O. Box 3090
Carlsbad, NM 88221-2078
Phone: (575) 234-7545
Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC
P.O. Box 2078 GSA-104
Carlsbad, NM 88221-2078
Phone: (575) 234-7586
WIPP Information Center
Phone: 1-800-336-WIPP (9477)