WIPP prepares to bring new ventilation system on line

November 27, 2023, 12:00PMRadwaste Solutions
Electrical circuits are tested during the commissioning of the new ventilation system at WIPP. (Photo: DOE)

Commissioning has begun on a new large-scale ventilation system at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

The Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS) is expected to increase underground airflow from 170,000 cubic feet per minute up to 540,000 cfm. The increased airflow will allow for simultaneous underground waste emplacement, mining, and ground control work. Ground control, including bolting, controls the movement of salt rock—known as salt creep—in the WIPP underground.

Construction of the SSCVS began in 2018 and commissioning of the system was a 2023 priority for the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, which oversees WIPP, the deep geological salt repository for defense-related transuranic waste.

A safety system: According to DOE-EM, the SSCVS serves as an added safety defense in the unlikely event of a radiological incident in the WIPP underground by directing airflow from the underground facility to a series of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units.

The SSCVS project includes two primary buildings, the Salt Reduction Building and the New Filter Building. The former prefilters salt-laden air coming from the WIPP underground, and the latter has fans and HEPA filtration to further remove contaminants from the exhaust air.

The SSCVS works in tandem with a new air utility shaft, also under construction at WIPP. The shaft sends additional air into the 2,150-foot-deep WIPP underground repository, and the SSCVS pulls air through the repository to the filtration units.

The process: Commissioning of the SSCVS began in October as crews began testing the first set of electrical cables supplying power to the system’s mechanical equipment, such as motors, fans, and air filtration units.

As facility construction nears completion, systems are individually turned over to commissioning for testing to ensure that each component and system can be energized and functions as designed. Once system testing has been completed, integrated testing will be performed to confirm that all components of the facility work together properly. After all testing, the facility will be handed over to WIPP operations personnel to bring the new facility on line.

“Initiating commissioning is a careful, step-by-step process to eventually integrate the SSCVS into daily WIPP operations,” said Ralph Musick, capital asset projects manager for Salado Isolation Mining Contractors, WIPP’s management and operations contractor.


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