Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Closer to Resuming Operations

Final inspections of WIPP's primary waste hoist began Oct. 7, and a town hall meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 16 to update residents about the recovery process.

Work is under way to resume operations in the first quarter of 2016 at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the transuranic waste disposal site outside of Carlsbad, N.M., where operations were suspended after two serious February 2014 incidents. The first was Feb. 5, when a salt haul truck caught fire, with six workers later treated for smoke inhalation. On Feb. 14, a continuous air monitor went into alarm because of a radiological release; DOE later confirmed 13 workers' radiation exposures.

As a result, DOE established two Accident Investigation Boards to assess WIPP safety systems at the federal and contractor levels. They examined training and qualifications, maintenance, and the emergency management response to both events and developed Judgments of Need that form the basis for corrective actions.

WIPP released its recovery plan on Sept. 30, 2014, and facility leaders announced Oct. 7 that final inspections have begun on its waste hoist, which is the largest and primary conveyance into the WIPP underground facility, in order to return it to operation. The hoist hasn't been operated since the Feb. 5 fire because of soot that accumulated on electrical components.

A town meeting on the recovery process is set for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Carlsbad City Council Chambers.

"Safety is our top priority," Mark Whitney, acting assistant secretary for DOE's Office of Environmental Management, said when the plan was released. "Some of the top nuclear and recovery experts from DOE and the nuclear industry helped develop this plan, and I'm confident we will be able to safely and compliantly resume operations in the first quarter of 2016."

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