WIPP’s Shaft No. 5 project continues

March 22, 2023, 7:01AMRadwaste Solutions
The Galloway is lowered into the utility shaft at WIPP. (Photo: DOE)

Progress continues on a new utility shaft at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico as shaft-sinking crews recently surpassed the midway point at a depth of 1,076 feet. When complete, the full shaft depth will be 2,275 feet, with the team now halfway to the WIPP repository depth of 2,150 feet.

“The utility shaft, or Shaft No. 5, is of great importance to WIPP and our ability to continue the [DOE’s] critical national mission of safely disposing of defense transuranic waste,” said Mark Bollinger, acting manager of the Carlsbad Field Office. “When completed, this shaft will be part of the new permanent ventilation system that will allow us to provide critical airflow to the underground workforce.”

The work: Workers in January completed construction of a concrete liner in the shaft to a depth of 873 feet. Currently, shaft excavation activities are being performed, including drilling, blasting, rubble removal, geological mapping, and installation of ground support. These activities will be repeated until a depth of 2,150 feet is reached.

Blasting and excavation occurs around the clock, according to the DOE. Rubble from the explosions is scooped by remote-control mechanical clamshells on the bottom of a cylindrical three-deck work stage known as the Galloway that hangs in the shaft. The mechanical clamshells dump the rubble into buckets that are then raised by the Galloway to the surface. The rubble is dumped into chutes and onto a concrete pad where a front-end loader scoops it into a truck to be hauled away.

Shaft sinking is set to be finished by the end of this year. When complete, the new shaft will be 26 feet in diameter, with two 3,000-foot drifts being excavated at the 2,150-foot level to align with the rest of the WIPP underground.

Investing in WIPP: The new shaft and a permanent ventilation system are part of a capital investment in upgrading WIPP’s infrastructure so that the facility can operate safely and compliantly for decades to come, according to the DOE. When finished, the system will triple the airflow to the WIPP underground from the current 170,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of filtered ventilation to as much as 540,000 cfm.

“It’s exciting to see the progress that is being made,” said Ken Harrawood, program manager for Salado Isolation Mining Constructors, WIPP’s management and operations contractor. “It cannot be understated, the importance of the work that is being done to complete the utility shaft. I can’t say enough about how well our subcontractor is performing.”

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