LA Times: Expert Says ‘Radiological Process’ May have ‘Forced’ Material Out Of Its Container At U.S. Nuclear Site, ‘It Could Be A Mess’

LA Times: Expert says ‘radiological process’ may have ‘forced’ material out of its container at U.S. nuclear site, “It could be a ess”; Officials saying little about extent of problem — Levels remain too high to let in non-essential personnel — Air monitors not allowed to collect filters (ENENews, Feb 18, 2014):

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 18, 2014 at 1:53a ET (emphasis added): The Energy Department suspended normal operations for a fourth day at its New Mexico burial site for defense nuclear waste after a radiation leak inside salt tunnels where the material is buried. […] Officials […] said little about the extent of the problem or how it could be cleaned up. […] How long the repository would be closed and the effects on the defense nuclear cleanup program were unclear. […] WIPP officials have said little about what could have triggered the radiation leak.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists:

  • The cause most likely involved radioactive material on the outside of a container that was not properly decontaminated
  • A less probable cause […] was a radiological process inside a container that forced material out
  • The extent of the cleanup operation necessary to get the repository back in operation depended on the intensity and range of contamination in the underground tunnels
  • “Could be a mess […] If there is airborne contamination and it involves plutonium, they are going to need to decontaminate […] If it is in the ventilation system, it could have spread”

Carlsbad Current-Argus, Feb. 18, 2014: Airborne radioactivity […] levels aren’t yet low enough to allow non-essential personnel back on site, according to a person familiar with the situation. Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, was told the information [Monday] by an employee of the nuclear waste repository […] [CEMRC] has monitored the air quality in and around WIPP since the 1990s and tests for radiation contamination at the facility by collecting a filter from the exhaust shaft each morning […] The last air filter sample CEMRC has is from Friday, before airborne radiation was detected downwind in the south salt mine of Panel 7, Room 7, at 11:30 p.m. later that night. […] Data on the quantity and type of radiation that was present in the airborne particulates below surface, and how it compares to regular background radiation levels, is not available according to the DOE.

Deb Gill, DOE spokesperson: “I don’t even have that because it gets into the compare-and-contrast point of view […] I know that when we do have additional information, then I think that can be part of what is provided, but we don’t have that right now […] We certainly hope [recent events don’t impact the future mission of WIPP]”

Russell Hardy, director of the CEMRC at New Mexico State University: “It’s my understanding that at some point in the near future we will be allowed to collect our filters, and at that point we’ll be able to do our analysis […] Our mission is to report whatever we find”

From Yesterday: CNN: Alarm due to radiation spike brings ‘1st-of-its-kind’ response at US nuclear site — Inspections cancelled, no one able to enter facility due to ‘high radiation’ levels — Reuters: Plans got called off over ‘safety thing’ — Gov’t: ‘Pretty sure’ we know where leak is — Local TV calls it ’emergency’ (VIDEO)

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