Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Roof collapse at USA’s Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

An Albuquerque watchdog group is calling for an additional federal review before WIPP can reopen.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad has been working for nearly three years to recover from a radiation accident in February 2014.

antnuke-relevantsafety-symbolRoof collapses at WIPP raise new safety questions, Albuquerque Journal By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 In a salt mine more than 2,000 feet underground where drums of nuclear waste are embedded in enormous rooms – some radiologically contaminated – workers heard a loud noise and saw a spray of salt dust.

It was just before 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Still recovering from a radiation accident nearly three years ago, managers of the nation’s only deep geologic repository for defense nuclear waste had just two weeks prior decided to shut down the far south end of the mine after the salt ceiling collapsed in two places.

Suspecting a rock fall, workers reported the incident to the Central Monitoring Room on the surface. Managers called for an evacuation of the underground and, following the latest safety protocol, activated the Emergency Operations Center 26 miles away in Carlsbad as a precaution.

The next day, a team of geotechnical and radiological control experts, members of the mine rescue team and a representative from the Mine Safety and Health Administration descended into WIPP. They found a massive area of the ceiling in Room 4 of Panel 7 had crashed: a rock fall two-thirds the length of a football field, eight feet thick.

WIPP is supposed to reopen this month. The U.S. Department of Energy has not publicly changed its position that WIPP will begin putting waste underground in December, a symbolic “end” to a recovery that still will likely go on for years.

There are regulatory hurdles left to clear. WIPP managers are expected to make public the results of a DOE “operational readiness review” this week, which could include corrective actions and could alter the time frame. New Mexico’s Environment Department must also complete a review of safety equipment, procedures and staff training and sign off that WIPP is ready.

But experts say the recent roof collapses inside WIPP – which have injured no one, thanks to precautionary closures of troubled areas – call into question the facility’s ability to handle ground control in a contaminated mine.

At the least, they say, the latest roof fall reduces available real estate underground, including potentially eliminating Room 4. At worst, the inability to keep up with maintenance could threaten worker safety, although WIPP managers frequently repeat that safety is the “highest priority.”……..

The radiation accident drastically reduced ventilation underground, curbing the number of vehicles that can operate. Workers must wear bulky protective clothing and respirators in contaminated areas and thus work more slowly. These and other constraints mean they can’t bolt back the roof at pre-accident rates, and some areas have been left unattended.

Salt was the chosen burial ground for certain types of legacy Cold War nuclear waste because, once filled and closed, the salt will slowly encapsulate the drums forever. But salt’s dynamic nature means WIPP managers are in a race against time – one they have not been winning.

“People have to understand, for WIPP to work it has to be a successful and a safe mining operation,” said Robert Alvarez, a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and former senior policy adviser to the Energy Secretary in the 1990s in the lead-up to WIPP’s opening. “They are just not out of the woods. But they are under enormous pressure to get this thing open because of all these sites sitting on this transuranic waste.”

Transuranic waste consists of boots, gloves and other materials contaminated during weapons production. Hundreds of shipments of “TRU” waste are piling up at sites around the country, including at Los Alamos and Idaho national laboratories and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina………

Federal review sought

An Albuquerque watchdog group is calling for an additional federal review before WIPP can reopen.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad has been working for nearly three years to recover from a radiation accident in February 2014.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy dated Nov. 21, Albuquerque’s Southwest Research and Information Center and the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council asked DOE to submit WIPP to a review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
The last NEPA review of WIPP came in 1997 – documents that “are now known to be incomplete, and in some cases, erroneous,” according to the letter.
Specifically, the letter requests NEPA analyses of WIPP’s recovery and its waste disposal plans – such as studies outlining the impacts of an underground fire like the one that occurred days before the radiation release in an unrelated accident – as well as a new analysis regarding the probability and impacts of a hot reaction inside a waste drum like the one that contaminated the facility.
– Lauren Villagran  https://www.abqjournal.com/902842/new-safety-questions-come-up-at-wipp.html

 

December 7, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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