Nuclear Alert: Radioactive Leak at Carlsbad New Mexico WIPP Facility - WIPP, the nation’s first and only deep geological nuclear waste repository, takes plutonium-contaminated waste...
|FILE - The first load of nuclear waste arrives in this March 26, 1999|
14.2.2014: Radiation alarm at New Mexico nuclear disposal plant [...] a first-of-its-kind response at a nuclear disposal facility outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, an Energy Department spokesman told CNN.
17.2.2014: An air monitor at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant detected the spike in an isolated area half a mile below the ground. The incident prompted an immediate shutoff of filtered air from the facility into the environment [...] “This is the first time we had to close off air filtered by the facility to the outside,” (CNN)
18.2.2014: Officials at the site discounted any effect on human health, saying no radiation had escaped to the surface and no workers were exposed. So far, it is unknown what caused the release of radioactivity inside the repository, built in ancient salt beds 2,150 feet below the surface. (LA Times)
Energy Department probes radioactive leak at New Mexico nuclear dump
The U.S. Energy Department said Tuesday it had opened an investigation into a leak of radioactive materials at a nuclear burial site near Carlsbad, N.M.
The department shut down normal operations last week at its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant after radiation alarms sounded late Friday, when no one was in the underground facility.
Officials at the site discounted any effect on human health, saying no radiation had escaped to the surface and no workers were exposed. So far, it is unknown what caused the release of radioactivity inside the repository, built in ancient salt beds 2,150 feet below the surface.
The shutdown could have an impact on the nation’s massive nuclear weapons cleanup program, which sends a couple of truckloads of waste to the facility almost every day.
The waste isolation plant takes clothes, tools, wood, paper and other items contaminated at low levels with plutonium and other human-made elements heavier than uranium.Energy Department officials said their primary focus was on the health and safety of the public, workers and the environment.
“DOE is establishing an investigation team for the Feb. 14 event at WIPP and is working on developing a plan to safely reenter the WIPP underground facility,” a department statement said. “At this time there is no immediate impact on other cleanup sites.”
Operators of a nuclear cleanup project in Idaho, which sends the largest amount of waste to the Carlsbad dump, said Monday they were continuing normal operations but storing waste onsite until operations resumed at the New Mexico facility.
James Conca, a former official at the Carlsbad site who also worked at the Yucca Mountain location where a nuclear dump is proposed, defended the New Mexico site’s performance in the accident.
“WIPP worked exactly as we designed it, and this event (the first ever in WIPP's 15-year history) showed this very well,” Conca said in an email to The Times. “Since it is the first event in a perfect operational history, it will be studied quite a bit more than would be warranted otherwise. It certainly is not a mess.”
Conca was responding to scientists who said that if the contamination was widespread inside the underground facility, the cleanup could be involved and expensive.
Conca has argued that the kind of ancient salt formations that underlie the Carlsbad site, and which also lies beneath much of the U.S., can provide a quick, safe and cost-effective solution for burying high-level radioactive waste, including spent nuclear reactor fuel and processed nuclear bomb waste. Efforts to build such a large-scale high-level repository have floundered for the last 30 years.
CNN: Alarm due to radiation spike brings ’1st-of-its-kind’ response at US nuclear site — Inspections cancelled, no one able to enter facility due to ‘high radiation’ levels — Reuters: Plans got called off over ‘safety thing’ — Gov’t: ‘Pretty sure’ we know where leak is — Local TV calls it ‘emergency’ (VIDEO)
Published: February 17th, 2014 at 2:13 pm ET
|WIPP is a tomb for Cold War nuclear waste half a mile under the desert.|
Department of Energy expect test results this week [...] Officials believe there is no danger to the community [...] the area officials believe was affected has been closed off. “We’re pretty sure we know where it’s at.”
Reuters, Feb. 16, 2014: [The alarm indicated] unsafe concentrations of radiation [...] DOE officials said appeared to be the first such mishap since the facility opened in 1999. [...] the source of the high radiation readings had yet to be determined, and a plan to send inspection teams below ground to investigate was put on hold as a precaution. [...] “They will not go in today. It’s a safety thing more than anything. We’re waiting until we get other assessments done before we authorize re-entry,” DOE spokesman Bill Mackie said. [...] Just a few dozen essential personnel, including security officers, remained at the site over the weekend. [...] “We’re in shutdown mode,” Mackie said.
AFP, Feb. 17, 2014: Investigators have not yet identified the source of the radiation [...] Earlier this month, an underground blaze prompted the evacuation of a different part of the site [...]
The Mirror, Feb. 16, 2014: Worrying: A possible radiation leak has taken place at a underground military nuclear waste site — Officials in the US say unusually high levels of radioactive particles were found at the site in New Mexico [...] It was not yet clear what caused the air-monitoring system to indicate that radioactive particles were present at unsafe levels. [...]
Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 17, 2014: [Energy Department spokesman Roger] Nelson said the cause of the leak was not yet known. [...] No one has been underground, and Nelson said he didn’t know when that would happen. [...] WIPP, the nation’s first and only deep geological nuclear waste repository, takes plutonium-contaminated waste [...]
Watch the KOB’s broadcast on the ‘emergency’ here
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