Mining operations to resume at WIPP

18 October 2017

The mining of salt from the US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico is expected to resume in the coming weeks. Mining of Panel 8 was halted in 2014 following separate fire and radiological events that suspended waste emplacement operations at the facility.

WIPP continuous miner - 460 (DOE)
A continuous miner is used for salt extraction at WIPP (Image: DOE)

WIPP, located about 26 miles (42 km) from Carlsbad in south-east New Mexico, was constructed in the 1980s and has received over 11,900 shipments of transuranic (TRU) wastes since it began operations in 1999. The waste is emplaced 2150 feet (655 metres) underground in rooms mined from a 2000-foot-thick salt bed. A WIPP panel consists of seven waste disposal rooms, each about 4 metres high, 10m wide and just over 90m long. WIPP is the USA's only repository for the disposal of TRU wastes from the country's military program. The wastes consist of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, soil and other items contaminated with small amounts of plutonium and other man-made radioactive elements.

Operations to mine salt and dispose of TRU waste at WIPP were suspended when a ruptured waste barrel in Panel 7 resulted in a release of radioactivity in February 2014, days after an engine fire involving an underground vehicle.

The facility reopened in January this year, with shipments of TRU wastes to the site resuming in April.

The DOE announced yesterday that the mining of Panel 8 - which had begun in late 2013 - is expected to resume later this month or in early November. Miners have completed testing of the mining equipment to be used. More than 112,000 tons of salt will be removed to complete the panel. Workers will re-mine the current roof at the panel's entrance and install rock bolts to provide stability. Completion of Panel 8 is scheduled for 2020.

Todd Shrader, manager of DOE's Carlsbad field office, said: "The resumption of mining represents an important step for WIPP and our workforce. Panel 8 will provide additional space for the emplacement of transuranic waste as our waste handler crews continue to emplace waste in panel 7."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News