Leak Prompts Tighter Protections at New Mexico Nuclear Burial Ground

Global Security Newswire Staff
April 23, 2014, 7:59 a.m.

A Feb­ru­ary ra­di­ation leak will force tight­er pre­cau­tions at a nuc­le­ar-waste buri­al ground in New Mex­ico, the Al­buquerque Journ­al re­ports.

Em­ploy­ees at the Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Plant will be ex­pec­ted “to wear pro­tect­ive equip­ment — cov­er­alls, shoe cov­ers and gloves — to make sure con­tam­in­a­tion doesn’t get on us and res­pir­at­ors so it doesn’t get in us,” Bob Mc­Quinn, the head of the fa­cil­ity’s man­aging con­tract­or, told the Journ­al for a Tues­day re­port.

Work­ers stopped en­ter­ing the plant’s sub­ter­ranean sec­tion after warn­ing sys­tems iden­ti­fied es­caped con­tam­in­ants on Feb. 14. Since the in­cid­ent, signs of ra­di­ation ex­pos­ure have turned up in at least 21 em­ploy­ees.

The ex­act source of the leak still re­mains un­clear. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, though, has in­dic­ated that the fa­cil­ity would ul­ti­mately be­gin re­ceiv­ing new waste from U.S. atom­ic labor­at­or­ies, ac­cord­ing to the Journ­al.

“The place that really has had no ra­di­ation pro­tec­tion is­sues now has, not more than the rest of the sites, but sim­il­ar ra­di­ation pro­tec­tion haz­ards,” said Mc­Quinn, pres­id­ent and pro­ject man­ager of Nuc­le­ar Waste Part­ner­ship.

“The form­al­ity of what we do is go­ing to have to be strengthened,” Mc­Quinn ad­ded. “Al­though there was train­ing, we wer­en’t as good at form­al­ity of op­er­a­tions as we need to be.”

Fa­cil­ity work­ers this week re­ceived train­ing to po­ten­tially use ro­bot­ic equip­ment dur­ing res­tor­a­tion ef­forts at the stor­age site, the Carls­bad Cur­rent-Ar­gus re­por­ted on Tues­day. The equip­ment came from San­dia and Los Alam­os na­tion­al labor­at­or­ies, which are both also loc­ated in New Mex­ico.

The En­ergy De­part­ment since Sunday has sent spe­cial­ists to Carls­bad, N.M., to pre­pare em­ploy­ees to in­stall new fil­tra­tion gear at the waste stor­age fa­cil­ity. The vis­it­ing crews came from the Sa­van­nah River Site in South Car­o­lina.

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