Ike White, center, Senior Advisor for DOE-EM, receives a briefing from members of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) award-winning mine rescue teams as part of an underground tour at the WIPP site. Also on the tour, at far right, is New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James C. Kenney. Photo Courtesy DOE-EM
Ike White, Senior Advisor for Department of Energy Environmental Management (EM), and EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeff Griffin receive a briefing on the interim measure to contain and control migration of a hexavalent chromium plume in the groundwater at Mortandad Canyon at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Pictured from left are Danny Katzman, chief scientist for the Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos water program, White, Griffin, and EM Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze. Photo Courtesy DOE-EM
Ike White, Senior Advisor for Department of Energy Environmental Management (EM), toured cleanup sites in New Mexico last week, visiting surface and underground facilities of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and projects across Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). At both sites, he recognized employees for the work they’ve accomplished to advance the cleanup mission.
“WIPP is the linchpin for our entire transuranic (TRU) waste mission. Your work here is fundamental to our ability to safely dispose of radioactive waste and complete the national cleanup mission,” White said.
EM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd Shrader, EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeff Griffin, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Associate Principal Deputy Administrator David Huizenga, and other EM and NNSA representatives joined White on the WIPP visit.
In the WIPP underground, members of the mine rescue teams explained how they train for emergencies, and employees discussed WIPP’s extensive ground control program, which includes the installation and maintenance of long steel bolts and wire mesh into the roof and walls.
The group viewed a roof bolting demonstration. White signed a bolt plate, which was then installed.
The visitors watched a machine mine salt from Panel 8, the latest waste disposal panel being mined at WIPP. Panels in the underground are mined at a depth of 2,150 feet in an ancient salt layer and contain seven rooms each. Each room is approximately 13 feet high, 33 feet wide, and 300 feet long, and is separated by a 100-foot beam of salt.
Waste handling technicians also showed the visitors the process of emplacing waste in the underground for permanent disposal.
WIPP representatives also gave updates on projects underway, including the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System and utility shaft. Together, these will replace an aging ventilation system and provide sufficient airflow for simultaneous mining, waste emplacement, and maintenance.
White began his LANL visit meeting with EM Los Alamos Field Office (EM-LA) staff. He outlined EM priorities, discussed legacy cleanup progress at LANL, and answered several questions from employees.
“You have a history of success here, from implementing the interim measure for the chromium plume to resuming TRU waste shipments to WIPP ahead of schedule,” he said.
During the site tour, White visited Mortandad Canyon, where an interim measure is working to contain and control the migration of a plume containing the contaminant hexavalent chromium in the groundwater — EM’s highest cleanup priority at LANL.
Danny Katzman, chief scientist for Newport News Nuclear BWXT-Los Alamos’ (N3B) water program, shared the latest progress of the interim measure along the plume’s southern boundary. Katzman also detailed plans to implement the measure along the eastern edge of the plume in the months ahead. N3B is EM-LA’s cleanup contractor.
Another stop on the tour was Technical Area 54’s Area G, which is dedicated to storing, characterizing, and remediating LANL’s transuranic (TRU) and low-level waste for shipment offsite for permanent disposal. EM-LA and N3B routinely ship TRU waste to WIPP.
The tour concluded at Technical Area 21 (TA-21). Atop a mesa and across from the Los Alamos County Airport, TA-21 was the Manhattan Project and Cold War-era complex of buildings that housed a plutonium processing facility, and where groundbreaking tritium research for energy, environment, and weapons defense research took place. At the height of operations, TA-21 contained 125 buildings.
White engaged the TA-21 project team on plans to decontaminate and demolish Building 257, the former Radiological Liquid Waste Facility — the last building remaining at TA-21. Demolition of Building 257 is scheduled to begin later this year.
-Contributors: Steven Horak, Bobby St. John