The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Monday, 10 December 2018 01:00

Rockfall at the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in California

Rockfall at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in California Rockfall at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in California.

A rock fall occurred in the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, California.

The accident was reported on November 14, 2018. 53 mine workers that were occupied at the time, were evacuated. No radiological releases or injuries were reported. The rock fall occurred in an area with poor ground conditions which had been sealed of due to a radioactive release, in 2014, that closed the facility for 3 years.

WIPP's engineering team was recording the displacements of the rock-mass in the area since September 2017. According to Todd Shrader, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy's Carlsbad Field Office, such incidents were expected to occur. "I want to emphasize that rock falls are not unexpected in areas that have been prohibited since we no longer perform ground control activities. All the proper precautions and safety measures were in place to protect our employees," he said.

At first, WIPP stated that there was no waste disposed in this area. However, about a week later, WIPP spokesman Donavan Mager said that this piece of information was not completely true. He explained that no "contact-handled" waste existed in the room but there were 2 containers of remote-handled waste (which is more secure). That waste lies there before the sealing of the room.

The director of the Nuclear Waste Program (NWP) at the Southwest Research and Information Center, Don Hancock, is worried about the current situation. According to Mr. Hancock, it is problematic that 53 workers were inside the facility when a rock fall was expected. Moreover, he criticizes on the failure of NWP to inform the public of the waste that exists in the collapsed room. "There's a lot of waste in that room, just not in barrels," he said. "To say there's no waste is just false. To me, it's also a problem that you had workers in Panel 7 (the aforementioned area) when this happened. None of that is okay," he added.


Read 268 times Last modified on Monday, 10 December 2018 14:35

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