Waste Isolation Pilot Plant In Carlsbad Finishes Mining Eighth Panel for Transuranic Waste Disposal

An electric continuous miner machine run by Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground miners Randy Wilson, left, and Blas Castaneda chews through the last wall of salt in Panel 8’s Room 7 to complete the rough cut of the panel. The rough cut completes the dimensions of the panel; another pass lowered the floor to create the room’s final height of 15 feet. Photo Courtesy DOE-EM


The mining machines are quiet. The salt haul trucks are still.

After seven years, mining of Waste Isolation Pilot Plant‘s (WIPP) Panel 8 is finished.

Created from a thick layer of salt, Panel 8’s seven emplacement rooms are the next destination for transuranic waste brought to WIPP from DOE sites throughout the country.

“We are all focused on working safely and productively in order to see Panel 8 in use next year,” said Reinhard Knerr, EM Carlsbad Field Office manager. “It’s been a long time coming, but Panel 8 will be ready just when we need it. My congratulations to all who made this moment occur.”

Emplacement is currently taking place in Panel 7; when it is full, scheduled for April 2022, Panel 8 will be ready to accept waste.

Still to come in Panel 8 are power, mine phones, protective chain link on the walls, and air monitors. But the heavy lifting – the creation of its rooms – was completed recently when a continuous mining machine removed the last of the floor in Room 3.


With a red laser measurement line showing on the wall ahead of him, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground miner Blas Castaneda uses a tape measure to check dimensions in Panel 8’s Room 7. Rooms where transuranic waste is emplaced are 300 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 15 feet high. Panel 8 mining totaled more than 157,000 tons of mined salt. Photo Courtesy DOE-EM


A salt haul truck turns a corner into Panel 8 in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground. The haul trucks take salt from a continuous miner machine in Panel 8 to a salt hoist for transport to the surface. Panel 8 mining, recently completed, totaled more than 157,000 tons of mined salt. Photo Courtesy DOE-EM

In all, mining machines and haul trucks cut more than 157,000 tons of salt rock, equivalent in weight to 1.5 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

Each room in Panel 8 is 300 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 15 to 16 feet tall.

To create the rooms, continuous miner machines make one pass through, guided by laser measuring devices, then gain the room’s final height by digging out the floor. The miners can cut 8 to 10 tons per minute, dumping the salt into haul trucks that transport the salt to a large hopper known as a grizzly; from there the salt hoist lifts 5 tons at a time to the surface, putting it into a 40-ton haul truck for placement on the north portion of the property.

Passageways known as drifts move people, machines, waste, and air through the mine. Next up for the mining machines are drifts that will run westward from the existing mine, connecting with a utility shaft under construction. A side drift will connect the new drift to the current air intake shaft, which is being converted to exhaust salt-laden mining air through new ductwork, fans, and a 75-foot tall exhaust stack.