On April 16, more than two months after an underground air monitor detected airborne radiation underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) nuclear waste burial site in Carlsbad, New Mexico, a search team clad in heavy protective gear discovered the location of the contamination.
Since moving in the heavy-duty suits is slow and laborious, and the teams respiratory equipment was running low, the team turned back before pinpointing the exact source of the leak, determining only that it is in a storage unit known as panel seven. This means that more trips to the 2,150-feet-deep panel will be required to find the source and to deal with it.
On the night of February 14, the monitor set off an alert, causing evacuation of the area and a halt to deliveries. Since then, the number of WIPP workers found to be contaminated with radiation has risen from 13 to 21. In addition, increased radiation has been detected in surrounding areas above ground.
The leak followed on the heels of an incident on February 5 in which a salt-hauling truck caught fire underground. 86 workers had to be evacuated. Six were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and seven others were treated on site.
A March 14 DOE (Department of Energy) Office of Environment Management report on the fire identifies shortcomings in the preventive maintenance program, emergency management, and emergency response training and drills by the Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC managing and operating DOE Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M., and it also faults the oversight provided by DOEs Carlsbad Field Office, according to an ohsonline.com article.
The article adds that the report finds the NWP/Carlsbad Field Office emergency management program is not fully compliant with DOEs requirements for a comprehensive emergency management system. While the report identified the direct cause of the incidentthe investigative board identified 21 error precursors on the date of the fire. The truck operators training and qualification were inadequate to ensure proper response to a vehicle fire, and he did not initially notify the Central Monitoring Room that there was a fire or describe the fires location.
By D. Lencho, 21 April 2014
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