A $3 billion, potentially 10-year contract was awarded to conduct daily activities at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant repository near Carlsbad, replacing Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) as the main operator of the WIPP site.
NWP’s contract expires in September, and the new contract was expected to take effect in October .
Transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste, made up of irradiated equipment and clothing materials, are disposed of at WIPP in a salt deposit about 2,000 feet underground.
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Shipments of the waste are brought in via truck from sites owned by the U.S. Department of Energy from its nuclear facilities around the country.
To continue that work, the DOE announced it awarded the WIPP contract to Tularosa Basin Range Services (TBRS) based in Reston, Virginia.
The contract is a subsidiary of Bechtel National Inc., the U.S. government services arm of engineering company Bechtel Corp.
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It would initially be for four years of WIPP operations, with six one-year options, per the announcement.
The DOE said it received five proposals for the contract.
“TBRS was selected as the offeror whose proposal was determined to be the best value to the government,” read a DOE statement.
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Contractor to oversee operations at nuclear waste site
The contractor will manage the WIPP site, its nuclear waste disposal, mining and maintenance operations.
This includes characterizing waste sent to the WIPP site to ensure it meets requirements for disposal, overseeing transportation of the waste, daily operations and capital projects.
Chief among those is an ongoing rebuild of the facility’s air system known as the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS), and a new air intake shaft.
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The SSCVS, per the latest report, was projected to cost about $494 million and be complete by 2026, while the utility shaft was expected to cost about $100 million.
WIPP is also in the final stages of mining its eighth and last-permitted panel in which to dispose of waste. It was estimated filling Panel 8 will take about two to three years.
More panels could be allowed by WIPP’s ongoing permit renewal with the New Mexico Environment Department, also for another 10 years of operations, with a decision by the State expected this year.
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The new proposed permit included language to allow multiple additional panels to replace space lost during a 2014 accidental radiological release that led to a three-year shutdown of the facility.
It also removed a 2024 closure date, with officials saying no specific timeline was needed as WIPP’s mission was to dispose of the 6.2 million cubic feet of waste prescribed in the federal Land Withdrawal Act.
That could take until 2080, officials estimated.
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Nuclear facilities operated by Bechtel
Bechtel also holds contracts for projects at DOE-owned nuclear facilities the Hanford Vitrification Plant in the state of Washington, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas and Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico.
Los Alamos Lawrence sent 1,525 shipments of waste to WIPP as of July 2, per the latest DOE records, while Handford sent 572, and Lawrence Livermore sent 38 shipments since the repository opened in 1999.
The DOE did not list any shipments from the Pantex facility, though the agency recently proposed a project that would see weapons-grade surplus plutonium at that site be diluted at Los Alamos National Laboratory to meet TRU waste requirements before disposal at WIPP.
The plutonium would be sent from Pantex to Los Alamos where it would be processed before shipment to the DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina for packaging, and then sent to WIPP.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.