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WIPP continues ground control efforts

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is continuing work to maintain the integrity of the underground prior to its reopening for waste emplacement sometime this month.

WIPP announced workers have been busy bolting in the mine, a process where steel bolts are inserted into the walls and ceilings for infrastructure support.

Workers have been playing catch-up at the facility, as they were unable to perform bolting or other maintenance procedures, known as ground control, for nine months after a February 2014 fire and radiological release in the underground.

A news release from WIPP said workers installed 360 bolts in a seven day period recently, a new record.

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“The performance of our underground operations crews has been outstanding,” said Nuclear Waste Partnership president and project manager Phil Breidenbach in the release. “They are improving ground control in some very difficult conditions, including working in personal protective equipment and respirators.”

The extra equipment must be worn by workers in areas contaminated by the radiological release, including Panel 7, where waste emplacement will resume upon reopening.

Ground control operations were so far behind that several rock falls in the southern portion of the mine prompted WIPP officials to make the decision to close that area of the facility in November.

The Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership have requested a Temporary Authorization from the New Mexico Environment Department to continue keeping that area closed.

“Deteriorating ground conditions, worker safety issues, the difficulties of rock bolting and ground control in contaminated areas, and the long-term integrity of the underground led to the decision to close the far south end, allowing for concentrated bolting in Panel 7 and associated drifts,” the news release reads.

The Temporary Authorization allows that area of WIPP to be closed before going through the process of changing the facility’s permit, which can take months, a Department of Energy spokesman said.

Concurrently, the Department of Energy completed their Operational Readiness Review of the facility last week. It’s the final review before WIPP is deemed fit for reopening.

The review team presented their findings to WIPP officials at the end of the week. Information on the results was not available.

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WIPP town hall

What: Informational meeting updating the public on WIPP’s recovery process with a focus on mining and ground control

Who: Open to the public

When: 5:30 p.m. Dec. 8

Where: Carlsbad City Council Chambers, 101 N. Halagueno

Maddy Hayden may be reached at 575-628-5512, mahayden@currentargus.com and @Maddy_J_Hayden on Twitter.

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