Work on ventilation system for US Waste Isolation Pilot Plant ahead of schedule

24 August 2021

The foundation concrete pour has been completed six weeks early at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (Photo: DOE/WIPP)The US Department of Energy’s  (DOE’s) Office of environmental Management (EM) said in August that workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico had reached a key milestone six weeks ahead of schedule by completing the foundation for a building critical to the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS), which will be the largest containment fan system among DOE facilities when finished.

“I am very proud of the commitment by The Industrial Company (TIC) to ramp up construction of the SSCVS while remaining focused on safety, regulatory compliance, and environmental protection,” said Carlsbad Field Office Federal Project Director Janelle Armijo. “Successful completion of this project will be a critical step in improving air quality in the underground, preparing for WIPP’s future.” TIC crews poured 44 individual concrete sections for the New Filter Building’s (NFB) shallow foundation, known as slab-on-grade. The company is a subcontractor to Nuclear Waste Partnership, WIPP’s management and operations contractor.

The NFB, whose footprint totals 55,000 square feet, is one of two major buildings that make up the SSCVS. The nearly 25,000-square-foot Salt Reduction Building will take salt-laden exhausted air from the WIPP underground and, using filters and water misters, prefilter it before sending the air to the NFB. Four 1000-horsepower fans pull the air through switchable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units in the NFB before exhausting the air out a 125-foot-high stack.

The SSCVS is key to restoring full operations at WIPP and is the largest construction project at the site for almost 30 years. The system will provide a modern air supply system designed to run continuously in unfiltered or HEPA filtration mode. The system will supply 540,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of air to the underground, significantly more than the maximum 170,000 cfm provided by the current ventilation system.

The increased airflow allows for simultaneous mining, rock bolting, waste emplacement, maintenance, and experimental scientific operations. Bolting controls the movement of salt rock — known as salt creep — in the WIPP underground.

WIPP’s fifth shaft to the underground, the 2,275-foot utility shaft, is also under construction. When complete, it will be the site’s largest with a 26-foot finished diameter providing additional airflow to the underground in conjunction with the SSCVS.

WIPP is designed to safely isolate defence-related transuranic waste from people and the environment. Waste temporarily stored at DOE sites around the country is shipped to WIPP and permanently disposed in rooms mined out of an ancient salt formation 2150 feet below the surface. WIPP, which began waste disposal operations in 1999, is located 26 miles outside of Carlsbad in New Mexico. 

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.

Photo: The foundation concrete pour has been completed six weeks early, at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (Photo: DOE/WIPP)

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