WIPP ventilation shaft reaches new depths

08 June 2023

A new utility shaft at the US Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico has now reached nearly 90% of the way to the underground waste repository depth of 2150 feet (655 metres). The new shaft is part of a major investment project to ensure the facility can operate safely and compliantly for decades to come.

A three-deck work stage - known as a Galloway - is lowered into the utility shaft (Image: DOE Office of Environmental Management)

Now at a depth of 1900 feet, the shaft is 26 feet in diameter and will be the fifth, and largest, shaft at WIPP: when finished, it will have a full depth of 2275 feet. A concrete liner has been installed inside the shaft to 873 feet with the rest of the shaft to be lined with steel mesh and rock bolts.

The operation is known as the Big Dig (Image: Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management)

The new shaft will provide an air intake for the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS) being constructed to increase airflow to the WIPP underground. The SSCVS is the largest construction project at WIPP in nearly 30 years, and the increased airflow will mean that waste emplacement activities at the facility - where sealed drums of transuranic wastes from the US military programme are placed in underground rooms mined out of an ancient salt formation - can take place at the same time as facility mining and maintenance operations.

Work on the USD75 million shaft began in 2020, and shaft-sinking is set to be finished by the end of this year.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News