Officials at the U.S. Department of Energy said they hope to dispose of 30 shipments of nuclear waste this year from Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
The goal was part of the DOE's Office of Environmental Management (EM) list of 2022 priorities released Tuesday which included multiple plans to continue work at the WIPP site where transuranic (TRU) waste is disposed of about 2,000 feet underground.
TRU waste consists of clothing items, equipment and other materials irradiated during nuclear activities across the U.S.
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It is buried at WIPP in an underground salt deposit where the salt gradually collapses to permanently sequester the waste.
To further this mission of cleaning up the DOE's TRU waste from New Mexico labs and its sites throughout the nation, EM also planed to complete half of the needed mining for a western access drift, per the released priorities, that would provide access to a utility shaft being constructed at the site.
The new shaft, WIPP's fifth, would act as an air intake to increase airflow in the underground to allow mining and waste emplacement to occur simultaneously, intended to allow better planning so that disposal panels are mined and ready when needed as others fill up.
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Airflow in the underground was restricted in 2014 after an accidental radiological release contaminated parts of the facility.
The DOE also planned this year to begin installing equipment at Los Alamos to help process TRU waste being sent to WIPP from the Waste Control Specialists facility in Andrews, Texas near the New Mexico state line.
Other priorities at WIPP included awarding contracts for transportation of the waste to WIPP and for management and operations of the site.
"Our many accomplishments in 2021 positioned EM to achieve an equally challenging slate of priorities in 2022," said EM Senior Advisor William White.
"Our 2022 priorities underscore our goals to accomplish cleanup that is safe and protective of our workforce, the public and the environment, and in a manner that is transparent to the communities that host and support our sites."
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As activities continue at the WIPP site, a laboratory known as WIPP Labs provides technical and scientific advising and environmental monitoring.
The lab's recent sample data was found by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to meet criteria allowing it to operate with accreditation under the DOE's Laboratory Accreditation Program (DOELAP).
The accreditation is reviewed by the DOE every three years, with the next opportunity to maintain the accreditation in spring 2022.
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WIPP Labs maintained is accreditation since 2000.
This allowed WIPP Labs to continue analyzing water, air, soil and vegetation samples near the WIPP site for isotopes known to be present in TRU waste sent to WIPP.
The recent study that achieved the lab's certification identified accurately all the known isotopes: plutonium, americium, uranium, cesium, cobalt and strontium along with their activity levels.
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"One of the requirements for DOELAP is that the WIPP laboratories must demonstrate annually their ability to analyze blind bioassay samples under a rigid set of criteria to maintain NIST compliance," said Ginny Jones, manager of the WIPP laboratories.
"Having the ability to analyze various isotopes at extremely low levels of activity helps WIPP demonstrate that our radiation protection protocols are working."
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, email@example.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.
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