WIPP Radiation Leak Closes Facility for Weeks

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While most of New Mexico was focused on the 2014 legislative session, the nuclear wast repository Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad reported a nuclear leak that required the evacuation of employees and increased testing of the air and ground around the facility.

The LA Times provided a good summary of the facility and debate on nuclear waste disposal here.

Locally, the Carlsbad Argus-Current has provided great coverage from day one, especially Zack Ponce and Jessica Onsurez:

Feb 15 2014:  CARLSBAD — Technicians at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant were taking surface samples Saturday afternoon after a radiation leak was reported at the nuclear waste repository. The airborne radiation was detected around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, according to officials with the Department of Energy. All 139 workers at the site, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, have been accounted for and are being sequestered on site. No injuries have been reported and no personnel were underground when the facility’s continuous air monitors, or CAMs, detected radiation downstream of where nuclear waste is disposed. – Zack Ponce, Carlsbad Argus-Current

Feb 21, 2014 :   It could be up to three or four weeks before workers can go underground to survey the possible source of the radiation release. Franco confirmed that the radiation detected at the site bears the same signature as that of the waste stored underground. However, officials could not identify with certainty the underground source and the cause of the release from among the more than 160,000 transuranic waste containers stored 2,150 feet below ground. A federally appointed accident investigation board was established on Wednesday to assess and investigate the event. Advisors from the Department of Energy, Mine Safety and Health Administration officials on that board will be joined by experts from other fields. The team of radiological experts will work to create a plan for re-entry to the underground, according to Franco.  – Jessica Onsurez, Carlsbad Argus-Current, Feb. 21, 2014

US Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall have also issued numerous statements as they monitor the federal government response:

U.S Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich issued the following statement on the continuing response to the detection of higher than usual radiation levels at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, N.M.

“The health and safety of the Carlsbad community and WIPP personnel are our top priorities. It is critical to ensure the public has access to accurate, timely information, and as the response to this event continues, we urge the Department of Energy to work with the community to address questions and concerns.

“We continue to be in close contact with officials at the Department of Energy and WIPP as they work to determine the source of the airborne radiation and continue their recovery efforts. We are pleased that experts from Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories are expected to be among those assisting DOE, and we are confident their expertise will be a valuable addition.” – Feb 20, 2014