How to get more air into a radiologically contaminated, deep underground mine: That’s a top concern for Department of Energy managers working to reopen the WIPP nuclear waste repository, but plans for new ventilation systems have recently hit snags.
When the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad was radiologically contaminated after a waste drum burst in February 2014, underground air flow was significantly curtailed. That’s because air pulled down 2,150 feet into the repository must now exhaust through high-efficiency filters at the surface to prevent radiation from escaping.
Air flow fell to 60,000 cubic feet per minute from 425,000 cubic feet of air per minute before the accident and a separate underground fire that also occurred in February 2014.
WIPP operating contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership has for more than a year plotted ways to improve air flow, including with an “interim” ventilation system, a “supplemental” system and, eventually, a new, permanent reconfiguration of the underground air flow.
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