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Workers exposed to radiation after 'major incident' in underground N.M. facility

Workers exposed to radiation at New Mexico nuclear waste dump.
Workers exposed to radiation at New Mexico nuclear waste dump.
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Workers exposed to radiation after a "major incident" at the only nuclear waste dump in the U.S., are being watched closely. The number of workers initially tested were 13 and all of them showed radiation exposure. These were the workers on duty the night that the radiation leaked from a drum or drums full of nuclear waste and stored at this New Mexico facility, according to NPR News on Feb. 28.

The Waste Isolation Plant, which is just outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, is made of up a series of rooms and tunnels buried 2,000 feet beneath the ground. The storage facility, which is about the size of several soccer fields, is carved into salt. This is a salt field left over from an ancient ocean.

Deep inside the underground facility, radiation somehow leaked with the leading theory being a large chunk of salt fell from the ceiling and broke open a drum or a number of drums. The monitoring system at the underground facility detected this right away and turned on the filtration system.

This system filters the air of radiation so it doesn’t leak into the outside world. While this usually works fine, when the outside areas were tested it was found that the radiation did make it above ground and the 13 people working at the time were all exposed.

The next day people came into work before it was learned that radiation had made it above the ground and the concern is that they too may have been exposed. They are in the process of being checked for radiation exposure.

Radioactive waste from the Cold War nuclear bomb production is stored in this underground facility. This radiation leak closed this facility for months, possibly a year until it is safe enough for the staff can go in and assess the damage. No one knows what went wrong but what is being called a “major incident,” happened earlier this month. On Feb. 14 at about 11:30 p.m. the alarms sounded as something went very wrong in this deep underground in the facility.

Very little radiation escaped above ground, it is within the acceptable amount of exposure for humans and the 13 staff received very little exposure. There is no word as of yet about the test results of the other employees, who came in the following morning before it was known that radiation made it above the ground.