U.S. Overseers Fault Nuclear-Waste Practices for New Mexico Leak

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Global Security Newswire Staff
April 24, 2014, 9:19 a.m.

Fed­er­al ex­perts blamed shoddy pre­cau­tions and ad­min­is­trat­ive prac­tices for a leak at a New Mex­ico nuc­le­ar-waste site, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

A “de­grad­a­tion of key safety man­age­ment and safety cul­ture” was cent­ral to the Feb. 14 con­tam­in­a­tion breach at the Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Plant, said Ted Wyka, head of the En­ergy De­part­ment Ac­ci­dent In­vest­ig­a­tion Board. He dis­cussed pan­el find­ings that were sched­uled for pub­lic­a­tion on Thursday.

“The bot­tom line is they failed to be­lieve ini­tial in­dic­a­tions of the re­lease,” Wyka said.

The site’s sub­ter­ranean tun­nels have re­mained off-lim­its to most per­son­nel fol­low­ing the in­cid­ent, which took place days after an un­re­lated vehicle fire. An ad­vance crew on Wed­nes­day re-entered a stor­age area where es­caped ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­al had been loc­ated last week, but the group did not find any in­dic­a­tion that a ceil­ing had fallen or a waste bar­rel had rup­tured.

Per­son­nel took more than 10 hours to re­act to the ini­tial alert in Feb­ru­ary, and a vent­il­a­tion mech­an­ism al­lowed un­filtered air to pass out of the fa­cil­ity, ac­cord­ing to the En­ergy De­part­ment as­sess­ment. In­vest­ig­at­ors faul­ted fol­low-up ac­tions by the de­part­ment, as well as the site’s emer­gency pre­pared­ness, re­pair sched­ule, and a lack of plans for pla­cing con­tam­in­a­tion sensors.

De­fense Nuc­le­ar Fa­cil­it­ies Safety Board Chair­man Peter Winok­ur said 100 times more ra­di­ation might have drif­ted above ground had work­ers not re­act­iv­ated a warn­ing sys­tem dis­abled for roughly six days after the fire, the Wall Street Journ­al re­por­ted on Wed­nes­day.

An En­ergy De­part­ment spokes­wo­man said the agency “is as­sess­ing all as­pects” of the fire and leak, and an­ti­cip­ates “some sig­ni­fic­ant changes.”

Bob Mc­Quinn, head of the con­tract firm Nuc­le­ar Waste Part­ner­ship, ac­know­ledged faults in the re­sponse moun­ted by the fa­cil­ity’s op­er­at­or, AP re­por­ted. He af­firmed that re­forms be­ing made in ad­min­is­trat­ive pro­ced­ures, per­son­nel pre­par­a­tions and oth­er activ­it­ies would “as­sure that every haz­ard that is posed by WIPP is ex­amined.”

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