Team Enters Atomic Burial Site Following Leak

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Global Security Newswire Staff
April 3, 2014, 6:58 a.m.

Work­ers ini­tially de­tec­ted no free-float­ing con­tam­in­ants as they re-entered a New Mex­ico atom­ic site evac­u­ated in Feb­ru­ary, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

A pair of eight-per­son teams on Wed­nes­day des­cen­ded in­to the sub­ter­ranean sec­tion of the Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Plant and set up a cent­ral op­er­at­ing site in its stor­age area, the U.S. En­ergy De­part­ment said. The move in­volved de­ploy­ing tech­no­logy to fa­cil­it­ate com­mu­nic­a­tions, as well as ad­di­tion­al sensor sys­tems in the waste area more than 2,600 feet be­low ground, the agency in­dic­ated in a state­ment.

The entry by the per­son­nel, who wore air masks and oth­er pro­tect­ive equip­ment, marked the first hu­man for­ay in­to un­der­ground cor­ridors of the salt mine since Feb­ru­ary. Work­ers stopped en­ter­ing the area after warn­ing sys­tems iden­ti­fied leak­ing ra­dio­act­ive particles; since the Feb. 14 in­cid­ent, signs of ra­di­ation ex­pos­ure have turned up in no few­er than 21 em­ploy­ees.

The es­caped con­tam­in­ants triggered the fa­cil­ity’s de­tec­tion equip­ment 10 days after a vehicle fire in the un­der­ground area. Con­tam­in­ants have reached the sur­face only in trace quant­it­ies, but the ex­tent of con­tam­in­a­tion in­side the site re­mained un­clear, ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­port­ing.

“Today’s ef­forts were a crit­ic­al first step to­ward fu­ture entries that will ex­pand the clean base of op­er­a­tions and al­low work­ers to travel farther in­to the mine to identi­fy the sus­pec­ted source of the ra­di­olo­gic­al re­lease,” the En­ergy De­part­ment press re­lease states.