WIPP officials expect rock fall within a month

-A A +A
By Tris DeRoma

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant officials assured the public Thursday that they’ve planned accordingly for a rock fall event in one of the facility’s underground storage rooms. The fall is expected in Room 6 in Panel 7.

According to equipment monitoring the situation, the rock fall should come from the ceiling, and could happen within four to six weeks. The room has been off limits for a year, and it only has radiologically contaminated equipment in it.

“We have the geo techs and the engineers all looking at that, and we feel very comfortable that by having the brattice cloth and the chain link (at strategic locations) we shouldn’t have an issue,”  Nuclear Waste Partnership President Bruce Covert said. 

Officials have also been talking with workers who work in panel 7 of what will happen when the fall occurs.

“Now, we’ll probably will have a little spread of contamination coming, but again, we’re anticipating that and we’ve been reworking the operations plan to when we do have the rockfall, what will be the reentry plan,” Covert said.

WIPP contains eight waste panels with seven rooms each. Each room is 300-feet long, 33-feet wide and 13-feet high. The pillars separating the rooms are about 100-feet thick.

Each panel is separated from the other by 200 foot pillars. About 300-yards long, 33-feet wide and 13-feet high

A plan is also being worked on that will keep workers safe when the fall happens.

“It’s not a precise science, all our workers have respiratory equipment and protective clothing. We’re looking at processes right now to better understand how to protect our workers in there,” Carlsbad Office Manager Todd Shrader said.

WIPP came back online this year after being closed for three years. The plant was shut down in February 2014 when a drum of radioactive waste from the Los Alamos National laboratory burst in Panel 7, room 7.

The accident was traced to the wrong type of kitty litter LANL contractors pack into the drums with the waste to make it inert.