Office of Environmental Management

WIPP Kicks Off New Series of Infrastructure Improvements

September 10, 2019

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A view of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant salt hoist, which will receive an upgrade as part of continuous improvements at the site.
A view of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant salt hoist, which will receive an upgrade as part of continuous improvements at the site.

CARLSBAD, N.M.EM’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is launching six projects as part of a continuing wave of infrastructure improvements at the nation’s only underground transuranic waste repository — from repairs to a hoist for removing mined salt from the underground to additions to a new fire protection system.

“There is a lot of infrastructure improvement work going on at WIPP,” said Bruce Covert, president and project manager of Nuclear Waste Partnership, WIPP’s management and operations contractor. “These projects are great examples of how the community, elected officials, Congress and the Department of Energy are working together to ensure WIPP can safely perform its mission for years to come. We are extremely thankful for the support.”

Workers dig a trench for a new fire suppression loop at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
Workers dig a trench for a new fire suppression loop at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

The projects include:

Salt hoist repairs: The 2,300-horsepower salt hoist is the only means of hoisting mined salt from the underground, and it is a secondary source of intake air for the underground ventilation system. It also exhausts air for the supplemental ventilation system, and is a route for power, control, and communications cables from the surface to the underground. Originally built in the mid-1920s, the hoist’s headframe will be stripped, structurally inspected, and recoated.


Fire loop, phase four: As part of a new fire protection system, workers will construct new electrical panels and alarms in site buildings. In other project phases, crews will build new water lines and a larger fire water tank on the northeast corner of the site.


Compressed air line: Compressed air controls airlock doors and is used in other ways in the WIPP underground. The line will run from the compressed air generation building, to the new backup compressed air facility in the middle of WIPP, to the waste hoist building. The 1,100-foot line then runs down the waste hoist shaft, 2,150 feet into the WIPP underground.


Information technology infrastructure upgrades: This work upgrades the site’s central monitoring room that tracks all of the site’s key systems, including underground air and gas monitoring alarms, the ventilation system, the underground miner radio tracking system, and the operation that tracks waste delivery trucks inbound to WIPP from throughout the nation.


Fabrication of substations 1 and 3: Electrical energy from an electric utility substation adjacent to the site is critical to WIPP’s mission. Substations at WIPP “step down” the 13,800 volts provided by the utility into usable voltages for site equipment. Substations 1 and 3 have operated for between 25 and 30 years, and are requiring increased maintenance and costs to remain fully operational to meet the mission need of ensuring continuous underground ventilation and providing power to other critical loads.


Underground substation replacement: Crews will replace one underground substation. WIPP substations are fed from the surface, and power lights and equipment such as continuous miners and charging stations for all-electric load-haul-dump machines.

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