Plant shut down after 22 workers exposed to radiation

UPDATED 10:20 PM MST Feb 14, 2015
CARLSBAD, N.M. ­It has been one year since 22 people were contaminated with low levels of radiation and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was shut down.

The accident happened on Valentine’s Day in 2014. An alarm in the salt mines of the country’s only nuclear waste dump sounded just before midnight. That’s when 22 workers trying to get to the surface were exposed.

Since the shutdown, the government has nowhere to store its nuclear waste.

"What we need to do is get the resources for them so that they can get that back up and running," said Democratic Sen. Tom Udall.

The government has increased WIPP’s budget by $10 million this fiscal year to help with the cleanup. But officials said it could take years for WIPP to safely reopen, at a cost of about a half-billion dollars.

Recently, the leak was traced back to one waste drum from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The U.S. Department of Energy said the drum was mistakenly packed with an organic type of kitty litter. It was supposed to be an inorganic substance, but a worker mistyped the information.

"There has to be consequences to this kind of action," Udall said.

LANL could be fined $100 million for the leak.

A new program plans to offer free medical screenings to former WIPP workers. The Worker Health Protection Program is operated by Queens College in New York. Details for the project are to be announced this month.

Read story at