WIPP adds space for nuclear waste disposal near Carlsbad

An eighth panel to store nuclear waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s underground repository near Carlsbad was completed with waste expected to go in next year.

At WIPP, low-level transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste made up of clothing materials and equipment irradiated during nuclear activities, is stored in an underground salt deposit about 2,000 feet underground.

The facility stores the waste in panels, with each panel containing seven rooms where workers emplace drums of it and allow the salt to gradually collapse in for permanent disposal.

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WIPP has emplaced waste in seven panels so far but lost some capacity due to contamination from an accidental radiological release in 2014 that also disrupted mining and emplacement activities during a three-year shutdown of the WIPP’s core operations.

But seven years since mining Panel 8 began, WIPP officials reported the work was complete in Tuesday announcement.

Panel 7 was expected to be full by April 2022, per the announcement, and Panel 8 will be ready to accept waste immediately.

A salt haul trucks turns the corner into Panel 8 from the West 170 drift in the WIPP underground. The haul trucks take salt from a continuous miner machine in Panel 8 to the salt hoist for transport to the surface. Panel 8 mining, completed Sept. 28, totaled more than 120,000 tons of mined salt.

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“We are all focused on working safely and productively in order to see Panel 8 in use next year,” said Reinhard Knerr, manager of the Department of Energy’s Carlsbad Field Office. “It’s been a long time coming, but Panel 8 will be ready just when we need it.”