Electric vehicles coming to nuclear waste repository

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A battery powered load-haul-dump loader moves mined salt in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant underground.

An effort to replace diesel vehicles and equipment at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant with electrical and battery-operated components is underway, part of a broader goal of improving airflow in the underground nuclear waste repository.

Available air in the underground, where low-level nuclear was is permanently disposed of, became restricted following an accidental radiological release in 2014 that contaminated parts of the mine.

WIPP officials took steps in the years following the event, beginning work on new utility shaft, planning to restart a major ventilation fan and moving forward with a multi-million-dollar rebuild of the facilities ventilation system known as the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS).

More:Amid legal battles over WIPP air system rebuild, new contract awarded to finish the work

When complete, the SSCVS will provide 540,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of breathable air to underground workers, but it the latest estimate showed it won’t be ready until 2025.

A diagram of the safety significant confinement ventilation system being built at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

In the meantime, Chair of the Carlsbad Mayor’s Nuclear Task Force John Heaton said multiple projects needed to be completed for workforce safety related to airflow including converting all the vehicles used in the underground to electric.

“The main importance of it is worker safety. Running diesel creates many toxic fumes in the enclosed area,” Heaton said. “There’s a big major effort to go to all electrically run equipment so that there’s no diesel.”

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