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WIPP has major projects through summer

This trench will serve contractor trailers at the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System project east of the WIPP site. (Courtesy of Office Of Environmental Management)

CARLSBAD – Numerous infrastructure projects at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant are on tap into summer, aiming to upgrade the facility and support ongoing operations as emplacement and mining occur simultaneously.

Mining of WIPP’s eighth panel intended to hold nuclear waste permanently in the underground resumed in January 2018 after work was paused in 2014 following an accidental radiological release in Panel 7.

Panel 8 was expected to be finished by 2020, after the removal of 112,000 tons of salt.

“Resuming mining operations will allow us to continue fully restoring WIPP and fulfilling our important mission of providing a transuranic waste solution for the (Department of Energy) complex,” said Todd Shrader, then-manager of the Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office.

But airflow in the mine was restricted, insufficient to allow mining and waste emplacement in Panel 7 simultaneously.

To rectify this, Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor hired by the DOE to oversee daily WIPP operations, took on a $288 million rebuild of WIPP’s ventilation system.

Known as the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System, the project was intended to increase airflow from 160,000 cubic feet per minute to 540,000 to allow emplacement and mining to occur at the same time, said a news release last week from the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management.

A diagram of the safety significant confinement ventilation system being built at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. (Courtesy Nuclear Waste Partnership)

It will be powered by six 1,000-horsepower fans spread among two buildings cleaning the air as it is sent to the underground for workers to breathe, and drawn back up to the surface as exhaust.

The system was expected to be completed by 2021.

“The SSCVS is critical to EM’s plans to increase shipments of transuranic waste to WIPP from cleanup sites across the DOE complex,” the release said.

WIPP personnel are engaged in multiple other infrastructure projects this summer, many related to airflow.

Here are some of the biggest ongoing at the site:

• Salt-reduction building – Air coming from the underground will first meet here where salt, dust and moisture is removed using filtering machines and other equipment. Workers recently completed the underground piping and are excavating an area to provide a collection pool for salt and water removed from the air.

• Filter building – After the salt-reduction building, air is put through several increasingly fine filters, trapping contaminants before being released into the air. Subsurface excavation is underway.

• Fabrication assembly building – The pre-engineered building was delivered to the WIPP site, and excavation began for its foundation. Components of the SSCVS will be built in this building.

• Utility shaft – One of five shafts descended to about 2,150 feet in the underground, and land was cleared for this utility shaft. It’s 30 feet in diameter, making it the largest at WIPP. The new shaft will provide air intake and a third access point to take materials down into the mine. It was planned to be complete by August 2022.

• Bypass road – The road will direct traffic away from the WIPP site during construction of the utility shaft. It was expected to be finished by the end of the year.

• Lighting protection system – “Dandelion-shaped” arrays are to be installed on top of light poles at the WIPP site, to prevent a direct lighting strike. This summer’s upgrade will fill in gaps in the current system. Lighting hasn’t struck within the site’s fence line in 30 years, the release said.

• Fire-protection loop – Workers are digging into the soil to replace several failed valves ahead of adding a new fire waterline. The loop will include new tanks, a pump house and hydrants for fighting any fires that occur at WIPP. This project was expected to be finished by the end of 2020.

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