CARLSBAD – Shipments of nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant are expected to increase to up to 10 per week by the end of the month, as mining continues a planned expansion of the underground repository.
Waste is being emplaced in Room 5 of Panel 7 in the underground, with the room expected to be filled along with its entrance drift by the end of the month, said Bruce Covert, president of Nuclear Waste Partnership — the contractor that oversees WIPP’s day-to-day operations.
WIPP is currently accepting about eight shipments per week, and emplaced 328 since the plant restarted operations last year, with 12,214 since it first opened in 1999.
Next year, WIPP expects to accept 330 shipments, with 165 coming from Idaho National Laboratory.
Forty-three are expected from Los Alamos National Laboratory, with 80 coming from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, and another 37 from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Another five shipments were expected to come from Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
Todd Shrader, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office said the estimate of 330 shipments is “conservative,” and could rise closer to 400.
“We assume 40 shipping weeks per year,” he said. “That would make 400 a year. We come down a little from that just to be conservative. I would anticipate those numbers will stay there.”
After Room 5 is full, Covert said workers would move on to Room 3, hoping to have that full by the end of the year.
He said he expected Panel 7 to be completely full by March 2021, and Panel 8 will be ready to accept waste the previous January.
While Panel 8 is mined, workers will also add mechanical bolts to control the salt drift, alternating between mining and ground control efforts, Covert said.
“Employee safety is our highest priority,” he said. “There’s a lot of focus on ground control.”
About 6,000 bolts were installed this year, Covert said, and temporary closure of the south end of the underground was successfully completed.
He said that additional work set back mining efforts slightly.
Other projects at WIPP include establishing an alternate waste transport path in the underground, while remediating an area contaminated by a 2014 accidental radiological release that led to a three-year closure of the facility.
WIPP officials are also hoping to increase air flow from the supplemental ventilation system, adding 20,000 cubic feet per minute of air to the underground.
For fiscal year 2018, WIPP is planning to upgrade the facility’s fire suppression loop, while adding new air compressors, replacing a salt hoist switch, and replacing an aging roof on the waste handling building.
The project scope for FY 2019 remained in the planning stages, Covert said.
Potentially the biggest capital project at WIPP, an almost $400 million rebuild of the facility’s ventilation system, broke ground last month and construction is underway, said Rodney Whisenhunt, project manager with NWP.