The mining of salt from the US Department of Energy's (DOE's) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico is expected to resume shortly, WIPP said in a statement on 17 October.
Mining of Panel 8 at the underground facility was halted in February 2014 after a separate fire and radiation leak suspended waste emplacement operations. WIPP, which was built in the 1980s, is the USA's only repository for the disposal of transuranic (TRU) wastes from the military programme. Waste stored there includes clothes, tools, debris, soil and other items contaminated with small amounts of plutonium or other man-made radioactive elements.
WIPP has received over 11,900 shipments of TRU wastes since it started operations in 1999. The waste is emplaced 655m underground in rooms mined from a 2000-foot-thick salt bed. One WIPP panel comprises seven waste disposal rooms, each about 4m high, 10m wide and just over 90m long.
WIPP reopened in January this year, with shipments of TRU wastes to the site resuming in April. The DOE said mining of Panel 8 – which had begun in late 2013 – is expected to resume in October or early November and will involve the removal of over 112,000t of salt. Completion of Panel 8 is expected during 2020.