Contract awarded for tech support at US WIPP repository

12 July 2021

A $100 million contract was awarded for technical support at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) for work related to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) nuclear repository near Carlsbad, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported on 8 July. Navarro Research and Engineering, based in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in June was awarded the contract for the next five years, replacing North Wind Portage which holds the current Carlsbad Technical Assistance Contract (CTAC) that expires on 31August.

CBFO is a small business providing environmental remediation and technical services to multiple federal agencies including the DOE, Department of Defense and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity (IDIQ) format of the contract will allow for task orders to have a fixed prices and timelines, intended to ensure projects are completed on schedule and on budget.

The contractor will support WIPP waste acceptance, chemical compatibility, audits and assessments, nuclear and industrial safety and scientific and international programmes along with transuranic (TRU) waste characterisation and transportation and other business operations.

Navarro held the CTAC contract at WIPP previously and President and CEO Susana Navarro said she hoped the company would again be an important part of WIPP operations and the local community. “Navarro is very excited to have been selected by DOE for the CTAC contract and we look forward to providing outstanding technical support to the DOE Carlsbad Field Office,” she said. “Navarro successfully managed the CTAC contract ten years ago as an active member of the community and we are very excited to return.”

The new CTAC comes at a time of heavy infrastructure work both on the surface and in the WIPP underground. DOE and primary operations contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) are currently rebuilding of WIPP’s Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS). This will increase airflow in the underground from about 170,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) to 540,000 cfm, allowing more waste emplacement and mining operations to occur simultaneously.

A new utility shaft is also planned to increase access to the underground as new areas are mined for waste emplacement. Meanwhile, DOE is awaiting approvals from the New Mexico Environment Department to build and operate the shaft. WIPP’s current permit with the New Mexico Environment Department expired in December 2020 and it was initially estimated WIPP would operate until 2024. A new permit is under review that would extend the lifespan of WIPP indefinitely and could lead to additional panels mined for waste disposal.

The DOE first sent out a request for information for the CTAC contract in August 2019, seeking information for potentially qualified contractors, followed by a request for proposal in October 2020. The contract was valued at about $46 million but was capped at $100 million, and DOE expects to extend in by six months as required.

The contractor will be required to provide audit and assessment activities throughout the DOE’s National Transuranic Waste Programme in New Mexico. This includes the management and operation contractor at WIPP – currently NWP and parent company Amentum, along with Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratories-Carlsbad, the TRU waste transportation contractors and CBFO along with other participants in the Field Office’s programmes.

WIPP, in southern New Mexico, is the only US deep-geologic repository to isolate defence-related TRU mixed waste from the environment, approximately 2,150 feet underground. In 2017, WIPP began accepting shipments following a nearly three-year closure that resulted from a radiation release in one of the underground disposal rooms.

NWP began work at WIPP in 2012 and its contract will expire in September 2021, with an extension carrying the contract through to September 2022. Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Amentum, Keith Wood, said the company will not be bidding on the next contract. The repository has been in operation for more than two decades, during which time it has received some 12,900 shipments of waste for deposition in underground vaults mined out of a salt formation.

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