More Than a Dozen New Mexico Workers Show Radiation Exposure

Global Security Newswire Staff
Feb. 27, 2014, 8:07 a.m.

Thir­teen per­son­nel at a New Mex­ico nuc­le­ar-waste site were found to have been ex­posed to heightened ra­di­ation after con­tam­in­ants es­caped in­to the air.

The signs showed up in bio­lo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als col­lec­ted from staffers on duty in sub­ter­ranean por­tions of the Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Plant on Feb. 14, when an auto­mated sensor de­tec­ted air­borne ra­dio­act­ive particles in­side the New Mex­ico com­plex, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports. The in­cid­ent came 10 days after an equip­ment fire at the site, though a Wed­nes­day New York Times re­port sug­ges­ted the events were not re­lated.

No ex­tern­al in­dic­a­tions of con­tam­in­ants were dis­covered on work­ers on the day of the alert, AP re­por­ted. But bio­lo­gic­al samples were col­lec­ted and ini­tially tested to de­term­ine if work­ers had breathed in ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­als.

“[Af­fected] em­ploy­ees, both fed­er­al and con­tract­or, will be asked to provide ad­di­tion­al samples in or­der to fully de­term­ine the ex­tent of any ex­pos­ure,” says a Wed­nes­day press re­lease from the U.S. En­ergy De­part­ment and the Nuc­le­ar Waste Part­ner­ship, the stor­age fa­cil­ity’s private op­er­at­or.

A Thursday af­ter­noon press con­fer­ence is ex­pec­ted at which En­ergy and con­tract­ing of­fi­cials are to ad­dress the mat­ter.

Over­seers have said air tests in­dic­ate that the air­borne con­tam­in­ants came from a broken waste tank, though an in-per­son as­sess­ment would be ne­ces­sary to identi­fy the rup­ture’s source, AP re­por­ted. A tank breach could have oc­curred if any site roof­ing had fallen in, or if a fork­lift had mis­takenly pierced a con­tain­er, Nuc­le­ar Waste Part­ner­ship head Farok Sharif said earli­er this week.

Ad­di­tion­al weeks may pass be­fore em­ploy­ees re-enter the fa­cil­ity’s be­low-ground stor­age area, the wire ser­vice quoted site ad­min­is­trat­ors as say­ing.

The En­ergy De­part­ment pre­vi­ously con­firmed that a quant­ity of ra­dio­act­ive con­tam­in­ants had also reached the site’s sur­face. However, Wed­nes­day’s Times re­port quoted fa­cil­ity staff and in­de­pend­ent ex­perts say­ing those amounts were min­im­al and rul­ing out any health im­pact for nearby res­id­ents. The waste fa­cil­ity is loc­ated less than 30 miles from the town of Carls­bad, N.M.

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