Investigator: Atomic Site Fire Was ‘Preventable’

Global Security Newswire Staff
Add to Briefcase
Global Security Newswire Staff
March 14, 2014, 10:29 a.m.

A new fed­er­al as­sess­ment links nu­mer­ous avoid­able er­rors to a fire last month at an atom­ic-waste buri­al site in New Mex­ico, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

The Feb. 5 con­flag­ra­tion at the Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Plant took place in­side a vehicle that was nearly three dec­ades old, in­ad­equately ser­viced and in need of a func­tion­ing alarm sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to the find­ings due for pub­lic­a­tion on Fri­day. Short­com­ings in crisis pro­ced­ures and pre­par­at­ory ef­forts were also ex­pec­ted to be ad­dressed in the forth­com­ing ana­lys­is.

“It was pre­vent­able,” Ted Wyka, the En­ergy De­part­ment head of the probe, said of last month’s fire. It burned for roughly half an hour be­fore the salt-trans­port vehicle’s op­er­at­or no­ticed flames rising from the en­gine area and un­suc­cess­fully sought to douse them, he said.

The of­fi­cial ad­ded that alarm lights at the site took five minutes to be­gin blink­ing, and the re­ac­tion from cent­ral-con­trol work­ers was un­sat­is­fact­ory. Six of the fa­cil­ity’s 86 on-duty per­son­nel re­ceived med­ic­al care for in­hal­ing smoke, AP re­por­ted.

“We were pretty lucky that day,” Wyka said at a pub­lic gath­er­ing on Thursday. “Des­pite all the safety sys­tems that sort of let them down, the work­force down in the mine that day was very calm, col­lec­ted and in many ways hero­ic.”

He de­scribed the fire as­sess­ment shortly after URS, the waste site’s con­tract op­er­at­or, said it had re­as­signed the pres­id­ent of its WIPP sub­si­di­ary to a lower-rank­ing post.

In that per­son­nel change, Farok Sharif — who also pre­vi­ously headed the Nuc­le­ar Waste Part­ner­ship — is now ex­pec­ted to help find short-term des­tin­a­tions for nuc­le­ar waste slated for buri­al at the site, AP re­por­ted sep­ar­ately. Bob Mc­Quinn, a 35-year vet­er­an with ex­per­i­ence in high-risk En­ergy De­part­ment nuc­le­ar-com­plex pro­grams, will re­place Sharif.

Un­der­ground por­tions of the com­plex have been off-lim­its since a Feb. 14 ra­dio­act­ive-ma­ter­i­al leak that was ap­par­ently un­re­lated to the vehicle fire.

“We are com­mit­ted to re­turn­ing WIPP to safe, com­pli­ant op­er­a­tions,” James Taylor, head of URS glob­al op­er­a­tions, said in writ­ten com­ments. “I am con­fid­ent these struc­tur­al re­align­ments will strengthen our re­cov­ery ef­forts.”

Of­fi­cials are set in sev­er­al weeks to is­sue sep­ar­ate find­ings on the ra­di­olo­gic­al in­cid­ent, which spread con­tam­in­a­tion to 17 per­son­nel.

What We're Following See More »
ANOTHER GOP MODERATE TO HER SIDE
John Warner to Endorse Clinton
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will score another high-powered Republican endorsement on Wednesday, according to a campaign aide: retired senator John Warner of Virginia, a popular GOP maverick with renowned military credentials."

Source:
AUTHORITY OF EPA IN QUESTION
Appeals Court Hears Clean Power Plant Case
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday "heard several hours of oral arguments" over the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules. The 10-judge panel "focused much of their questioning on whether the EPA had overstepped its legal authority by seeking to broadly compel this shift away from coal, a move the EPA calls the Best System of Emission Reduction, or BSER. The states and companies suing the EPA argue the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate anything outside of a power plant itself."

Source:
$28 MILLION THIS WEEK
Here Come the Ad Buys
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Spending by super PACs tied to Donald Trump friends such as Ben Carson and banker Andy Beal will help make this week the general election's most expensive yet. Republicans and Democrats will spend almost $28 million on radio and television this week, according to advertising records, as Trump substantially increases his advertising buy for the final stretch. He's spending $6.4 million in nine states, part of what aides have said will be a $100 million television campaign through Election Day."

Source:
UNLIKELY TO GET A VOTE, LIKELY TO ANGER GOP SENATORS
Obama Nominates Ambassador to Cuba
6 hours ago
THE LATEST
GOP REFUSED VOTE ON FCC COMMISIONER
Reid Blocks Tech Bill Over “Broken Promise”
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Monday night's debate may have inspired some in Congress, as Senate Minority Leader has decided to take a stand of his own. Reid is declining to allow a vote on a "bipartisan bill that would bolster U.S. spectrum availability and the deployment of wireless broadband." Why? Because of a "broken promise" made a year ago by Republicans, who have refused to vote on confirmation for a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission to a second term. Harry Reid then took it a step further, invoking another confirmation vote still outstanding, that of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Source:
×