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What did WIPP accomplish during a month-long pause?

Shipments and emplacement of nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant were halted for almost a month in January as workers completed numerous maintenance projects on the surface and in the underground repository.

The outage started at the beginning of the year and continued until Jan. 27, including four days without electrical power to the facility.

“The planning and teamwork demonstrated by all the organizations involved in the outage was amazing,” said Gene Balsmeier, Nuclear Waste Partnership chief operating officer and deputy project manager. “We turned them loose, and they went and did it.”

Here is a list of the major project achieved by WIPP workers during the maintenance outage.

In the underground

Workers replaced a rope on the 45-ton waste hoist, connecting the bottom of the hoist with a 102,000-pound counterweight.

The 2,200-foot metal rope was made up 151 wires.

An air line was installed from the bottom of the air intake shaft, stretching the entire length of an exhaust drift and including a new valve and new chain supports.

The line’s supports were moved away from the wall, while another air line was repaired for the airlock doors long the facility’s primary waste emplacement route through the underground.

“Fortunately, the crew was quick to adapt and knew how to address it quickly,” said Heath Fowler, mine operations supervisor with NWP.

Maintenance was performed on Panel 7, in preparation for waste emplacement.

Ninety-five loads of salt were removed, along with large equipment and other materials from the panel’s rooms.

That allowed workers to repair heaved floors and walls.

They also pulled 39 broken bolts and installed new bolts in Room 3 of Panel 7.

A metal bulkhead was removed, closing the end of the 300-foot-long room to make way for mining.

After Room 3 was finished, workers started floor milling and bolting in Room 2.

The bolts are installed to slow the natural movement of the salt as it collapses in on itself. This is how the waste is ultimately buried when a panel is full and the bolts are pulled.

In two days during the outage, 72 used batteries – six to 24 volts – were removed from old equipment and disposed of on the surface.

Above ground

Floor refinished

Contact-handled waste bay painted

Relocated supports in the remote-handled waste bay

Electrical switch gear overhauled, including the plant substation and breakers

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.


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