“The utility shaft, or Shaft No. 5, is of great importance to WIPP and our ability to continue the Department’s critical national mission of safely disposing of defense transuranic waste,” said Acting Carlsbad Field Office Manager Mark Bollinger. “When completed, this shaft will be part of the new permanent ventilation system that will allow us to provide critical airflow to the underground workforce.”
When complete, the full shaft depth will be 2,275 feet, with the team now halfway to the WIPP repository depth of 2,150 feet.
Workers completed construction of concrete liner in the shaft to a depth of 873 feet in January. The team is currently performing shaft excavation activities of drilling, blasting, rubble removal, geological mapping and installation of ground support. These activities will be repeated until the station depth is reached at 2,150 feet.
The new shaft and a permanent ventilation system known as the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System are part of a capital investment in upgrading WIPP’s infrastructure so the facility can operate safely and compliantly for decades to come. When finished, that system will triple the airflow to the WIPP underground from the current 170,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of filtered ventilation to as much as 540,000 cfm.
“It’s exciting to see the progress that is being made,” said Ken Harrawood, program manager for Salado Isolation Mining Constructors (SIMCO), WIPP’s management and operations contractor. “It cannot be understated, the importance of the work that is being done to complete the utility shaft. I can’t say enough about how well our subcontractor is performing.”
Blasting and excavation occurs around the clock. Workers drill holes and set explosive charges in half of the shaft circle. Rubble from the subsequent explosion is scooped by remote-controlled mechanical clamshells on the bottom of a cylindrical three-deck work stage known as the Galloway that hangs in the shaft. The mechanical clamshells dump the rubble into buckets raised through bucket wells in the Galloway to the surface. The rubble is dumped into chutes and onto a concrete pad where a front-end loader scoops it into a waiting truck to be hauled away.
Shaft-sinking is set to be finished by the end of this year. When complete, the new utility shaft will be WIPP’s largest shaft at 26 feet in diameter, with two 3,000-foot drifts being excavated at the 2,150-foot level to align with the rest of the WIPP underground.
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