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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