CARLSBAD — Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant expect to schedule a second entry to the underground soon, after a successful first entry by two eight-man teams revealed no contamination Wednesday.
“We planned it extremely well, we practiced it extremely well, and then we did it,” said Bob McQuinn, project manager of Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that operates WIPP.
Stakeholders in the operation will meet to discuss best practices from the completed first excursion into the northern-most part of the mine, where the re-entry teams successfully established communications with the Central Monitoring Room above ground. The negative contamination results, officials said, were expected as teams only ventured into non-disposal areas of the site.
WIPP is a national repository for defense-related low-level nuclear waste just east of Carlsbad where it is stored 2,150 in ancient salt formations.
Wednesday’s mission was the first re-entry to the salt mine after a radiological leak was detected in early February. Plans to recover the underground began with the deployment of robotic probes to secure the air intake shaft and salt shaft on March 9.
The second re-entry, which they expect to possibly take place next week, will constitute the second phase of the recovery operation, but workers will be moving further south in the mine as they continue to ensure the security of the area.
A Thursday news release from the Department of Energy said additional continuous air monitors will be installed during the second phase along the re-entry path.
Officials expect that teams tapped for the third re-entry will be able to begin explorations to identify the source of the contamination.
The news comes on the heels of the first shipment of radiological waste from Los Alamos National Labs to a West Texas nuclear waste site. Th waste will be stored on site in Andrews, Texas, until operations at WIPP resume. Joe Franco said that work with Waste Control Specialists will continue to ensure the Los Alamos waste deposits proceed efficiently and as planned.