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Airborne radioactive leak, WIPP, Carlsbad: Workers not allowed back as planned

WIPP discussion on VIDEO starts about 4:25 minutes in.

Radioactive leak, WIPP, Carlsbad: Workers not allowed back as planned

There is concern that gases caused the underground explosion at WIPP, and the extent of contamination “could topple long-held assumptions.”

By now you've probably heard about the uncontrolled airborne release of radioactive plutonium and other toxic radioactive elements at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an underground nuclear waste storage dump in Carlsbad, New Mexico. But maybe you haven't heard because the Department of Energy (DOE) initially denied any release of plutonium.

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The WIPP plant has been shut down since Feb 14, after back-to-back accidents, a fire and then an airborne radiation leak. It’s unknown what is leaking or how extensive the contamination might be below ground.

Workers were scheduled to reenter the nuclear dump this week, for the first time since the radiation leak contaminated workers last month. And now, the DOE has postponed plans to get a crew underground to begin investigating the radiation leak.

A big problem with that is there is a time limit on the venting of containers that came into the WIPP site before the fire and airborne radioactive release. You see, WIPP is required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to vent those containers “within 60 days” to prevent a potential buildup of gas in the containers.

Good luck with that when workers are prevented from reentering the facility.

The ongoing investigation into the source of the radiation release and the extent of contamination underground could topple long-held assumptions, experts say. These accidents have left many aspects of the permits that govern how WIPP operates open to question. And, it is still unknown what happened at WIPP that caused radiation to escape in the first place.

The radiation leak was "identified by WIPP" at 11:30 p.m., Friday, Feb 14, but, as is usual in such situations, the radiation leak and whatever caused it was covered up for days.

No one was warned. No one was notified. And, of course, independent monitors and researchers were not allowed onsite, which is a bit like a traffic accident or airplane crash with no highway patrol officers or NTSB personnel allowed on the site of the accident.

The automatic radiation alarm system that identified the leak triggered an air-filtration system, which was supposed to filter the air coming out of WIPP before being released. However, unfiltered radiation was detected outside and 3,000 ft. northwest of the ventilation shaft. This unfiltered radiation then blew downwind, exposing everyone and everything downwind of the release.

Two divergent views of WIPP:

Two risks outlined in WIPP’s lengthy Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement are considered possible causes of the recent leak: a roof collapse or an exploding drum. When WIPP opened in 1999, nearly every single container headed for the repository was checked for “head space gas,” the flammable or corrosive chemicals that can build up in the space between the drum contents and lid, and threaten a rupture or explosion. State regulators relaxed those rules over time.

What is it they say about "the best laid plans of mice and men"?

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