Shipments to WIPP resumed this past spring after the facility reopened in January. WIPP suspended operations after a truck fire and unrelated radiological event in 2014.
“This is another important milestone for us,” Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) Manager Todd Shrader said. “We are making steady, safe progress in our efforts to return WIPP to full operations.”
“Resuming shipments has been an important priority for our program due to the large inventory of processed waste that is stored in onsite facilities. These shipments will remove risk from our site and help fulfill our commitments to the state of Tennessee,” said Jay Mullis, acting manager of the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM). “This was only possible through a lot of hard work from the federal and contractor employees here and support from staff in Carlsbad."
Before the resumption of shipments, CBFO and contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP) briefed state officials, emergency responders, and stakeholders along waste shipment routes to ensure they were aware of WIPP transportation protocols and safeguards.
“WIPP is a critical part of the nation’s nuclear cleanup mission and national security mission,” Shrader said. “We understand the importance of helping these sites meet their missions.”
WIPP is currently receiving contact-handled TRU waste shipments. Total shipments to the facility have climbed to 56 since EM marked the 50th shipment in late August.
The facility is receiving about three to four shipments per week. The current plan is to gradually increase the total number of weekly shipments through next summer.
“Resuming shipments was always a priority for us, but we wanted to ensure it is done in a safe and compliant manner,” NWP President and Project Manager Bruce Covert said. “I am extremely proud of the hard work of this world-class team and am honored to say that I am part of it.”
The Idaho Site and contractor Fluor Idaho have made 38 shipments to WIPP since April. Workers at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) continue to characterize, treat, and certify the waste in support of a 1995 agreement between DOE and the state of Idaho. Approximately 900 cubic meters of waste at AMWTP is ready for shipment to WIPP. Approximately 8,400 cubic meters have been treated and are awaiting certification and shipment. About 7,100 cubic meters remains to be treated or exhumed.
“When we were given the green light to resume shipping in April, it was like a huge shot of adrenalin to our workers,” said Fluor Idaho Waste Operations Manager Jim Floerke. “It was an incredible day when that first shipment went out. We were ready to resume shipments because over the past few years our dedicated, highly skilled workforce stayed focused on our mission and kept the equipment and processes ready to go as soon as WIPP was ready.”
AMWTP uses automated processes and robotic equipment for TRU waste treatment and disposition. The centerpiece of the facility is the supercompactor, which uses up to 4 million pounds of pressure to crush 55-gallon drums of waste into 5-inch-thick pucks, which are placed into larger drums. This volume-reducing method has decreased the number of shipments to WIPP by several thousand truckloads, thus freeing up space in the mine.
The Savannah River Site (SRS) has made nine shipments to WIPP since April, meeting its commitment to ship about 55 cubic meters of TRU waste out of South Carolina in fiscal year 2017.
SRS employees updated TRU characterization, packaging, and certification programs. They reviewed all waste to ensure it met WIPP’s new waste acceptance criteria. The site also completed a readiness review to demonstrate it was prepared to load TRU waste for transport.
For the first time since 2012, processed and treated TRU waste left Oak Ridge’s Transuranic Waste Processing Center (TWPC) for permanent disposal at WIPP. Oak Ridge completed two shipments to the facility this year, both in August. (Watch a video on Oak Ridge’s WIPP shipments here. This video provides an overview of Oak Ridge’s TRU waste operations.)
With WIPP operations ramping up, Oak Ridge anticipates making multiple shipments each month.
“This is a really exciting day for us,” said Linda Beach, North Wind Solutions program manager at the TWPC. “I’m very proud of how our workforce has responded to the unexpected challenges during the past several years. They have been committed to our mission, and showed great innovation to identify ways to continue making progress and safely store waste despite the delay in shipments.”