WIPP ventilation project passes milestone

19 August 2021

A major project to build a new ventilation system at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, USA has passed a milestone with the completion of the foundations for one of two major buildings for the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS). The 55,000 square feet (5100 square metre) New Filter Building (NFB) will house the high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units that will clean air extracted from the WIPP underground.

Work has now begun on the NFB's walls (Image: WIPP)

The foundation concrete pour for the NFB was completed six weeks early, and work has already begun on building the walls, the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management said. The 44 individual concrete sections were poured by The Industrial Company, a subcontractor to WIPP management and operations contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership.

When complete, the SSCVS will be the largest containment ventilation system at any DOE facility. It will be able to run continuously either in unfiltered or HEPA filtration mode, and will supply some 540,000 cubic feet per minute of air underground, more than triple the maximum supplied by the current ventilation system. A new 2275-foot utility shaft is also under construction, which will provide additional airflow underground in conjunction with the SSCVS.

"Successful completion of this project will be a critical step in improving air quality in the underground, preparing for WIPP's future," said Janelle Armijo, federal project director at the DOE's Carlsbad Field Office. The increased airflow will mean that waste emplacement activities can be carried out at the same time as mining and maintenance operations.

WIPP has been operational since 1999 but operations were temporarily suspended in 2014 following a truck fire and unrelated radiological event. Various infrastructure developments, including the installation of the USD288 million SSCVS, are being carried out since waste emplacement resumed in 2017.

The SSCVS is the largest construction project at WIPP in nearly 30 years and will be key to restoring full operations at the site, where transuranic wastes in sealed drums are permanently disposed of in an underground salt bed layer more than 2000 feet below ground.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News