WIPP recovery plan released

3 October 2014

The Department of Energy has published a plan to recover the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to resume operations in early 2016.

WIPP operations were suspended following an underground truck fire and a radiological release in February 2014.

Key elements of the recovery plan include strengthening safety programs, regulatory compliance, decontamination of the underground, increasing ventilation, mine stability and underground habitability, and additional workforce retraining.  Additionally, findings and recommendations from the investigations of both the truck fire and the radiological release will be incorporated into WIPP actions in the future.

DOE has still not publicly said when a report about the direct cause of radioactive release will be released.

DOE said that returning WIPP to normal operations will be a long, multi-step process, and that its focus continues to be on the actions necessary to keep the public, environment, and employees safe, mitigate the radiation source and restore operations.

It said that phase one of the recovery plan is now complete. It has blocked ventilation ducts that bypass filters with high-density foam, installed dosimeters into intake shafts to confirm that the shafts area was not contaminated, replaced contaminated air filters in two filtration units, and managed personnel re-entry teams that set up underground working facilities and surveyed the site, including panel 7 room 7, where a breached waste container from Los Alamos National Laboratory was identified.

Phase two of the recovery plan includes mitigating the contamination source, restoring conditions that will support operations, and incorporating corrective actions.

Among other work, the plan is to permanently isolate the waste containers in panel 7 with a steel bulkhead, at least 100 feet of mined salt, and then another bulkhead. Final closure for panel 6, which contains similar wastes, will need to mitigate the kind of event that happened at panel 7, DOE said, without specifying exactly what it had in mind. Both plans need to be evaluated by the New Mexico Environment Deparment.

Picture: Sampling of burst drum, 30 May

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