The Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico has received 118 shipments of transuranic waste since reopening to shipments in April, officials said Wednesday night at the WIPP Town Hall in Carlsbad.
WIPP is now averaging between five and six shipments per week from other DOE sites, according to Bruce Covert, president and project manager for site prime contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership. But the facility will suspend waste empanelment for two weeks during January for a maintenance outage.
Salt mining in the underground disposal facility should also resume next week to clear out more space in Panel 8, the officials added at the webcast event. The start “is a big deal for WIPP,” Covert told the audience. Salt mining has not occurred since two accidents forced the underground facility offline in February 2014. WIPP is the nation’s only deep-underground disposal site for transuranic waste.
As it has done with resumption of waste shipments, WIPP will take a steady, incremental approach to restarting mining, Covert said.
A return to full-scale, simultaneous salt mining and waste empanelment is intertwined with WIPP’s planned construction of a new underground permanent ventilation system. A request for proposals for construction of a major part of the ventilation system, not including the new exhaust shaft, could be issued in January, said WIPP Federal Project Director Ronald Gill.