WIPP Update

October 23, 2014

WIPP ventilation fan restarted

Tuesday evening, workers at WIPP successfully restarted the 860A fan that is part of the mine ventilation and filtration system currently operating at the site.  The 860A fan was started on February 14, 2014, when continuous air monitors (CAM) in the WIPP underground facility detected elevated levels of radioactive contamination and shifted the underground ventilation system into filtration mode, forcing all air exiting the facility through High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters.  The WIPP underground facility has remained in filtration mode since the event occurred.

The 860A fan ran for approximately two months following the radiological incident before being taken off-line for maintenance.  Since that time, the 860B or the 860C fans have been operating to continue the air filtration process.  Because the 860A fan was operational immediately following the radiological release, WIPP radiological control staff anticipated that a small amount of residual contamination could be present in the adjacent ductwork and the interior workings of the fan and that a low level of contamination could be released during the restart.  Air conditions were monitored in real time and set at conservative limits. As a precautionary measure, workers on site during the restart were required stay indoors and “shelter in place”.

As anticipated, the air monitors detected slightly increased readings shortly after restarting and then fell to expected levels within a few minutes.  Returning 860A fan to full service means all three 860 fans are confirmed to be reliable for operation and periodic rotation.

Air particulate filters from 16 low-volume air samplers on and around the site were exchanged prior to and again following the fan start up.  These filters will be sent for analysis after the 72-hour waiting period necessary for decay of naturally occurring radon.  Analysis results will be used to confirm real-time measurements from the CAM.  Results are expected to be within the normal variation observed at the site and below levels that would impact public health or the environment.

Community meeting scheduled

November 6   – 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.

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.