Nuclear Repository Workers Zero in on Radiation Leak’s Possible Origin

Global Security Newswire Staff
April 18, 2014, 6:44 a.m.

Work­ers found con­tam­in­ants in high­er quant­it­ies as they moved in­to part of a West­ern nuc­le­ar-waste site va­cated in Feb­ru­ary, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

Crews would need to re-enter the sub­ter­ranean cor­ridors of New Mex­ico’s Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Plant a fifth time to isol­ate the source of air­borne ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­als de­tec­ted there, ac­cord­ing to Thursday re­marks by Tammy Reyn­olds, deputy re­cov­ery chief for the U.S. En­ergy De­part­ment. Un­der­ground por­tions of the site have been off-lim­its to per­son­nel fol­low­ing a con­tam­in­a­tion in­cid­ent, which came days after a vehicle caught fire in­side the fa­cil­ity.

Reyn­olds said U.S. per­son­nel hope to ob­tain fur­ther de­tails next week. Crew mem­bers had to end their most re­cent ven­ture in­to the site after five hours on Wed­nes­day, as tem­per­at­ures rose in­side their pro­tect­ive cloth­ing and power for their breath­ing ap­par­at­us dwindled, AP re­por­ted.

The En­ergy De­part­ment of­fi­cial said the entry team in­vest­ig­ated both of the fa­cil­ity’s waste rooms that had not pre­vi­ously been per­man­ently closed off. Waste is en­tombed in five ad­di­tion­al stor­age “pan­els,” but work­ers rendered the air­tight cham­bers per­man­ently in­ac­cess­ible after they reached ca­pa­city.

“It doesn’t seem to us that the con­tam­in­a­tion came from Pan­el 6, that the source came from Pan­el 7,” Reyn­olds said. Pan­el 6 had been com­pletely filled but not closed off, mak­ing the lat­ter cham­ber the only area re­ceiv­ing waste at the time of the in­cid­ent.

Per­son­nel might re­ceive help from ro­bot­ic equip­ment as they at­tempt to de­term­ine the source of the es­caped con­tam­in­ants, ac­cord­ing to AP. Sus­pec­ted cul­prits in­clude a waste bar­rel pos­sibly punc­tured by mov­ing equip­ment, or by or a ceil­ing that may have fallen.

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