Shipments of defense-generated transuranic waste for disposal at WIPP were put on hold during the nearly month-long maintenance effort, which included a planned four days without electrical power.
Above-ground outage work involved floor refinishing and painting in the contact-handled waste bay of the waste handling building, recoating supports in the building’s remote-handled waste bay, and an electrical switch gear overhaul involving the plant substation and breakers.
In the underground salt repository, where waste containers are emplaced, workers replaced one of three ropes on the site’s 45-ton-capacity waste hoist, which makes trips 2,150 feet underground. The 2,200-foot metal rope, made up of 151 wires, connects the bottom of the hoist with its 102,000-pound counterweight.
Crews installed a new air line from the bottom of the air intake shaft. The line is the length of an entire drift, or tunnel, and includes a new valve and new chain supports. They drilled out the supports from their previous locations in the salt to move the line away from the wall, and repaired another air line affecting airlock doors on the facility’s primary route for waste emplacement.
“Fortunately, the crew was quick to adapt and knew how to address it quickly,” said Heath Fowler, mine operations supervisor with Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), WIPP’s management and operations contractor.
Workers performed maintenance on Panel 7 in the WIPP underground to ensure additional rooms were ready for waste emplacement. The panel was mined more than five years ago.
In November, teams began removing 95 loads of salt, three large pieces of equipment, and other material from some panel rooms. That work allowed them to remill heaved floors and walls, pull 39 broken bolts, and install new bolts in Room 3. Workers removed a metal bulkhead closing the end of the 300-foot-long room to facilitate milling. Once crews finished the work in Room 3, they started the floor milling and bolting process in Room 2.
Steel bolts are installed in the roof and walls to slow the natural movement that occurs in the salt formation. Once rooms are filled, it is this same movement that will eventually permanently encapsulate the waste containers.
Workers also removed 72 used six- to 24-volt batteries from old equipment over two days, packed them according to New Mexico Department of Transportation specifications, and hoisted them to the surface for disposition.
“The planning and teamwork demonstrated by all the organizations involved in the outage was amazing,” said Gene Balsmeier, NWP chief operating officer and deputy project manager. “We turned them loose, and they went and did it.”