DOE takes steps to reopen WIPP

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By The Staff

One of two safety plans needed before workers can re-enter the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has been approved, according to a release from the facility Monday.
The Department of Energy has approved a plan to ensure the WIPP ventilation system is working. A second plan to ensure worker safety still needs approval before anyone can re-enter the underground site.
This week, workers will inspect the hoist ropes for the Salt and Air Intake conveyances that will lower personnel to the underground facility.
Plans are underway to move a number of waste packages from WIPP’s Parking Area Unit into the Waste Handling Bay for venting — a requirement of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Venting” involves removing the waste from the transportation packages to allow the dissipation of any hydrogen buildup, a process that poses no risk to the public or environment.
The waste payloads will be removed from the shipping packages and stored in the Waste Handling Building in accordance with the WIPP Hazardous Waste Facility Permit, which allows for 60‐day storage in the Waste Handling Building.
The New Mexico Environment Department approved an additional 45‐day extension to store wastes in the Waste Handling Building.
Aerosol testing on WIPP’s high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which were brought in by Los Alamos National Laboratory to evaluate their efficiency, began March 23.
LANL personnel who are conducting the tests determined a larger generator was needed to inject the aerosolized oil into the filters. The generator arrived Monday and tests are scheduled to resume Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced Saturday that 35 workers have undergone training simulations at a Potash mine before re-entry next week into WIPP.
Employees went through a two-hour underground session using protective gear and air-breathing units, officials said.
Workers spent this week training for various scenarios that could occur in the mine.
According to the Department of Energy, the plan is for workers to set up an operating camp near a salt-handling shaft and then check for a secondary exit in the shaft that controls airflow. After that, they will focus on finding the source of the radiation release.
The repository near Carlsbad stopped taking all waste shipments after an underground truck fire on Feb. 5. Nine days later, a radiation release shuttered the plant. A series of shortcomings in maintenance, safety training, emergency response and oversight were cited by a team that investigated the truck fire.
The New Mexico Environment Department withdrew a preliminary permit this week for the dump’s request to expand its facility, citing the fire and the leak.
It is unclear, however, if the two incidents are related.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is the nation’s only permanent underground repository for low-level radioactive waste, including things like plutonium-contaminated gloves, tools and protective clothing, from nuclear weapons facilities.
With the nuclear waste dump shuttered, operators for the plan made an agreement with Waste Control Specialists to ship radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to rural west Texas.