Continuing Safety Problems with New WIPP Shaft

Recent monthly reports by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board relate disturbing stories about near-miss operational incidents in the fifth shaft, under construction, at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).  The underground federal radioactive waste disposal site is located 2,150 feet below ground surface in a salt formation almost 30 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico.  The Board has reported broken cables, misaligned transport platforms for workers to reach the underground, and workers stuck in the new shaft.

On November 20th, 2023, the third incident in that month occurred when a basket for transporting materials fell 2,150 feet down the new shaft.  SIMCO, the management and operating contractor at WIPP, issued a formal stop work order to Harrison Western Shaft Sinkers JV, LLC, the subcontractor.  Preliminary findings indicate the subcontractor did not implement formal controls for hoisting and rigging activities and allowed informal operator actions to take their place. and

The Shaft Sinkers hired a safety culture expert to make improvements to the operating practices and procedures.      

For most of January 2024, construction work did not occur.  Working under a partial and limited authorization, a work crew was threatened again.  Approximately 900 feet of a line used for blasting in the shaft fell past them and landed on an unattended steelwork structure below.  The work crew was under a metal overhead cover.  No injuries were reported.

On January 23rd, 2024, two miners in a man cage were descending the shaft when it stopped at 1,500 feet below ground surface.  The hoisting brake system became engaged and stopped.  Within 30 minutes the cage was lowered to the underground mine.  The hoisting brake system is comprised of four safety significant components included in the Department of Energy’s Documented Safety Analysis and for that reason must be reported to DOE’s Occurrence Reporting and Processing System, or ORPS.

Because food, water and an escape route were provided, SIMCO argued that it was not required to make an ORPS report.

The Board’s staff considers a loss of hoist control to be an unsafe condition that should have been reported.

WIPP’s design had never included a fifth shaft and there was strong public opposition to the new shaft, which is costing at least $288 million and won’t be operational for at least two more years.

The new shaft problems continue as reported in the Board’s monthly reports.  To learn more and to keep an eye on what is happening at WIPP, download the Board’s monthly reports at

  1. Friday, April 19, 2024 from noon to 1 pm MT – Join the weekly peaceful protest for nuclear disarmament on the four corners of Alameda and Sandoval in downtown Santa Fe with Veterans for Peace, CCNS, Nuclear Watch NM, Loretto Community, Pax Christi, Nonviolent Santa Fe, New Mexico Peace Fests, and others. Join us!



  1. From Wednesday, March 6 to May 15 (Bi- Weekly) from noon to 1 pm Mountain Time – UNM Climate Change and Human Health ECHO Program: Global Nuclear and Environmental Threats Critical to Climate Change and Human Health.


May 1st – Identifying the Source of Chemical Solvents and Their Health-Related Impacts and Microplastics are Here.  Speakers are: 

    • Michelle Hunter, MS – Deputy Director, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, The Office of the State Engineer
    • Matthew J. Campen, PhD – Regents Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences Director, UNM Environmental Health Signature Program



  1. Saturday, April 20th from 9 am to 2 pm – Earth Day at the Caja del Rio Hike & Clean-Up, Santa Fe, NM. Activities include a hike, lunch and cleanup activities.  For more information:



  1. Sunday, April 21st from 10 to 4 pm – La Montanita EarthFest 2024 at Nob Hill Location in Albuquerque.



  1. Sunday, April 21st at 6 pm – Wildflower Playhouse and Taos Center for the Arts present: Dance, Live Performance – Stories from Home by Yvonne Montoya / Safos Dance Theatre.  Stories From Home is a series of dances embodying the oral traditions of Nuevomexicano, Chicano, and Mexican American communities in the American Southwest.  Choreographer Yvonne Montoya, a 23rd-generation Nuevomexicana, and an all-Mexican American cast of dancers draw upon personal histories and ancestral knowledge, including stories from Montoya’s great-grandmother, grandmother, great-aunts, and father. Tickets:;instance=20240421180000?popup=1   



  1. Tuesday, April 23rd from 6 to 8 pm – DOE/DOD Semiannual Public Meeting about what is going on at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) and Kirtland Air Force Base (Kirtland AFB) at New Mexico Veterans Memorial, 1100 Louisiana Blvd. SE, Albuquerque. For more info:



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


No comments so far.

  • Leave a Reply
    Your gravatar
    Your Name