Jeri Clausing / The Associated Press, April 23, 2014 07:22 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Poor management, an eroding safety culture, ineffective maintenance and a lack of proper oversight are being blamed for a radiation release that contaminated 21 workers and shuttered the federal government’s nuclear waste dump two months ago in southeastern New Mexico.

The series of shortcomings are identified in a report to be released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Accident Investigation Board and are similar to those found in a probe of truck fire in the half-mile-deep mine just nine days before the Feb. 14 radiation release from the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) near Carlsbad.

Board chairman Ted Wyka previewed the findings at a community meeting Wednesday, identifying the root cause as a "degradation of key safety management and safety culture."

With the source of the leak still unknown, the Department of Energy’s investigation focused on the response to the emergency and to the safety and maintenance programs in place. Shortcomings were found at almost every step, from a more than 10-hour response to the initial emergency alarm to a bypass in the filtration system that allowed the radiation to escape above ground.

"The bottom line is they failed to believe initial indications of the release," Wyka said.

The report also found that much of the operation failed to meet standards for a nuclear facility; a lack of proper safety training and emergency planning; lagging maintenance; and a lack of strategy for things like the placement of air monitors. Problems with oversight by the Department of Energy also were cited.


[This April 2, 2014, image provided by the U.S.
Department of Energy shows workers preparing to enter the Waste Isolation
Pilot Plant facility in Carlsbad, N.M., for the first time since the Feb.
14 radiological release. The operators of this federal government’s
troubled nuclear waste dump are bracing for a scathing report Wednesday,
April 23, 2014, on their response to a radiation release that
contaminated 21 workers and shuttered the southeastern New Mexico
facility two months ago. (AP Photo/U.S. Department of Energy)]

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