Morning Briefing - December 07, 2017
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December 07, 2017

No Major Environmental Impact Seen in Building WIPP Ventilation System

By ExchangeMonitor

Construction of a new permanent ventilation system for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., should not trigger any major environmental impacts, the Energy Department said in a recent supplemental analysis.

“Because of the way the underground ventilation system is segregated and operated, construction and operation of the upgraded ventilation system would not contribute to worker or offsite radiological consequences,” according to the report approved Nov. 7 by DOE Carlsbad Field Office Manager Todd Shrader and agency legal counsel.

The recent supplemental analysis was required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

WIPP, the nation’s only underground disposal site for DOE transuranic waste, reopened about one year ago after a nearly three-year waste emplacement layoff following two accidents in February 2014. The mine was forced to drastically reduce airflow in the wake of a Feb. 14, 2014, radiation release, and has since installed interim and supplemental ventilation systems enabling underground operations.

The permanent system is intended to return ventilation to pre-2014 standards and enable WIPP to simultaneously conduct full-scale waste disposal and salt mining to create more disposal space.

The supplemental analysis studied the cumulative impacts of a new 55,000-square-foot filter building that will be constructed on the surface, along with a new underground exhaust shaft. Construction of the system is due to start in April 2018 and to wrap up in March 2020.

The project – not including the ventilation shaft – is estimated to cost $273 million, according to information provided Wednesday by DOE and WIPP prime contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership. A cost estimate has not yet been completed for the exhaust shaft.

The proposed permanent system would provide 540,000 actual cubic feet per minute of airflow. That would be 15 percent higher than the flow rate in 2014 prior to the radiation release.