WIPP Update

July 22, 2014

Entries into WIPP underground resume

Entries into the WIPP underground facility have resumed after being suspended for several weeks while workers changed air filters on the WIPP Ventilation System.  The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) has completed their examination in most of the underground facility.  However, Room 7 Panel 7 will be inaccessible to recovery workers until the AIB investigation is completed.

On July 18, employees entered the underground facility to conduct radiological surveys and evaluate ground control conditions to ensure the continued safety of future entry teams.  They also tested a localized power unit and substation, identifying the reasons for its inoperability.  Workers are now preparing to repair the unit during an upcoming entry.

Water levels in the waste shaft sump are significant because contact with the steel tail ropes for the 45-ton Waste Hoist may have resulted in contamination of the ropes. During the July 18 entry, the team also checked the water level and determined it was well below the level required to make contact with the ropes.  This finding will facilitate the waste hoist’s return to service and should allow additional personnel and equipment to be transported to the underground facility in support of recovery activities.

Community meetings scheduled

July 24 – The City of Carlsbad and DOE will co-host a town hall meeting featuring updates on WIPP recovery activities. The meeting is scheduled 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.