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WIPP nuclear waste workers return after fire and radiation leaks Carlsbad NM

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Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) nuclear waste workers are preparing to return to work at the Carlsbad, New Mexico, nuclear waste dump, after both a fire and a radiation leak that contaminated workers in February caused it to be shutdown. It's not clear if the incidents were connected.

A series of inadequacies in maintenance, safety training, emergency response, and oversight were cited by the Accident Investigation Board that investigated the salt-haul truck fire. WIPP stopped taking all radioactive waste shipments after the fire. Nine days later, a radiation release shuttered the plant.

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With the nuclear waste dump shuttered, plant operators have made an agreement with Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to ship radioactive waste scheduled for WIPP from Los Alamos National Laboratory to rural west Texas.

Nuclear waste workers at the Department of Energy's "troubled nuclear waste dump" in southeastern New Mexico are preparing to enter the facility's underground mine for the first time since radiation leaks last month caused the facility to shut down. In preparation for the nuclear waste workers return, specially-trained workers placed a camera atop an elevator to make unmanned tests inside the facility,

DOE announced that 35 workers spent this week training for various scenarios that "could occur" in the mine, such as a two-hour underground session using protective gear and air-breathing units, also known as "closing the barn door after the horse is stolen."

According to DOE, the plan in the event of an emergency is for workers to set up an operating camp near a salt-handling shaft and then check for a secondary exit in the shaft that controls air flow. After that, they will focus on finding the source of the radiation release.

The radiation leaks come on the heels of the Feb 5 fire that not only burned the salt-haul truck's engine compartment and front tires, but also sent tremendous amounts of thick black smoke and soot through the underground facility and into areas that should have been kept smoke free.

Needless to say, the New Mexico Environment Department has withdrawn WIPP's preliminary permit request to expand its nuclear waste dump facility, citing the fire and the leak.

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