ENOUGH ¡BASTA! Say No to High Level Nuclear Waste Dumping in New Mexico
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WIPP radiation levels should be low, toxic air borne particulates are public threat

13 were exposed to radiation at WIPP
By Jeri Clausing – Associated Press – 27 February, 2014
UPDATED: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 4:29 pm
PUBLISHED: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 11:24 am

Officials say it is too soon to speculate about the health effects a radiation leak at the nation’s underground nuclear waste dump might have on workers.

The U.S. Department of Energy and the contractor that runs the Waste Isolation Pilot Project Wednesday confirmed that 13 workers who were above ground the night of the leak have tested positive for radiation exposure. And they say more workers are being tested.

They say more tests are needed to determine the levels of exposure, and they emphasized that all readings at the site have been at very low levels.

But watchdog Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center says the fact the workers were exposed at all raises questions about whether the site’s filtration system worked as well as officials have said.

“It is important to note that these are initial sample results,” the DOE and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the plant operator, said in a joint statement Wednesday. “These employees, both federal and contractor, will be asked to provide additional samples in order to fully determine the extent of any exposure.”

WIPP officials have said no employees were underground when a radiation detector went off late Feb. 14. And everyone at the plant when the leak occurred was checked for contamination before being allowed to leave, the news release said. But biological samples were also taken to check for possible exposure from inhaling radioactive particles.

Elevated radiation levels have been detected in the air around the plant, but officials have said the readings are too low to constitute a public health threat.

And they have said that all indications are that a HEPA filtration system designed to immediately kick in when radiation is detected and keep 99.7 percent of contamination from being released above ground worked flawlessly.

But watchdog Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Safety program at the Southwest Research and Information Center, said the fact that the workers were exposed raises questions about those claims.

“The WIPP systems right now are in the guinea pig stage,” he said. “We know in theory what they were designed to do but we don’t know how well they worked because they have never been tried.”

The accident is the first-known release of radiation since the dump near Carlsbad began taking plutonium-contaminated waste from the nation’s nuclear bomb building sites 15 years ago. It came just nine days after a truck hauling salt in the plant’s deep mines caught fire, but officials say they are confident the incidents are unrelated.

Officials said they can tell from their analyses of air samples in and around the plant that a container of waste leaked, but it could be weeks before they can get underground to find out what caused it. Possible scenarios include a ceiling collapse or a forklift puncturing a canister, Farok Sharif, president of the Nuclear Waste Partnership, said Monday before a community meeting in Carlsbad.

More than 250 people attended that forum, where Sharif and Joe Franco, the DOE site office manager, told sometimes skeptical residents that the elevated amounts of radiation that have been detected offer no more risk than a dental X-ray or an airline flight.

Still, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he will send the Environmental Protection Agency a letter Thursday requesting that they bring portable air monitors to the area.

“The health and safety of the Carlsbad community and WIPP personnel are my top priority,” Udall said.

Hancock said officials also need to do extensive soil testing around the site.

New Mexico State University runs a monitoring center in Carlsbad that offers free radiation-detecting body scans. The director of the center said there has been a rise in appointments being scheduled since the leak.

WIPP is the nation’s first deep underground nuclear repository and the only facility in the country that can store plutonium-contaminated clothing and tools from Los Alamos National Laboratory and other federal nuclear sites.

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

DOE “no exposure claim” is now of largest radiation exposures of US workers in single event

‘Unusually high’ number of employees contaminated at New Mexico site contradicts DOE’s initial claim that workers were not exposed

‘Wake-Up Call’ as Workers Test Positive for Radiation After Nuclear Leak
27 February, 2014 – Sarah Lazare – common dreams

wipp_2

Thirteen workers at an underground nuclear waste dump in New Mexico have tested positive for radiation following a leak of radioactive particles into the air earlier this month, the Department of Energy announced Wednesday.

“That is an unusually high number of workers to be exposed at any given time,” said Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and former senior policy adviser to the secretary of energy under the Clinton administration, in an interview with Common Dreams. “This is very unusual and not supposed to happen. This is a wake-up call.”

The federally-owned Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico holds plutonium-contaminated military waste, generated by nuclear weapons production across the United States, including Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico. It is the only underground nuclear waste dump in the country, storing radioactive material deep beneath the earth’s surface in salt formations. Officials say this facility was never supposed to leak.

The exposed workers were performing “above ground operations” on February 14th at the time the leak was detected, according to a statement by the DOE. “It is premature to speculate on the health effects of these preliminary results, or any treatment that may be needed,” reads the statement, which notes that many more tests are needed to determine the full extent of the workers’ exposure.

Findings that the workers have been contaminated contradict initial claims by WIPP managers that none of the 139 people working when the leak was detected had been exposed.

Furthermore, the number of workers contaminated could be even higher. “We are still reviewing staff assignments to determine if additional employees will need to be tested,” states the DOE.

The revelation follows an announcement by the DOE on Monday that an underground leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico had contaminated the surface air, resulting in “slightly elevated levels of airborne radioactive concentrations.” The findings sparked alarm among many residents of the nearby town of Carlsbad.

The DOE claimed in their Wednesday statement that “There is no risk to family or friends” of employees who have tested positive for radiation. The DOE and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that operates WIPP, have aggressively downplayed the danger and impact of the leak.

Yet Arnie Gundersen, former nuclear industry executive turned whistleblower, told Common Dreams that this claim is premature. “It happens routinely when workers are contaminated that they bring that radiation home,” he said. “The families of the workers need to have their homes tested as soon as possible.”

According to Alvarez, the worker contamination is “a symptom of a larger problem”—a system in which the DOE is responsible for regulating and overseeing itself and “often leaves this responsibility in the hands of private contractors.” The DOE has “steadily demoted its environmental and health oversight function,” said Alvarez. “That’s a real problem. These are high-hazard activities.”

“How many times are we going to allow this to happen?” …more

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

The WIPP Trail – A Documentary

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

Inspector: Feds ‘consistently in denial’ over Nuke leaks at Hanford Site

Inspector: Feds ‘consistently in denial’ at Hanford
14 February, 2014 – SUSANNAH FRAME – KING 5 News

Thousands of documents obtained by KREM 2’s sister station KING 5 reveal a lack of action and a denial of the serious nature of a spill of nuclear waste by at the Hanford nuclear facility in eastern Washington.

The records were generated by the Washington State Department of Ecology during its investigation of the spill, which occurred in February 2012 in the central region of the 586-square-mile Hanford site. Employees of the government contractor CH2M Hill were inspecting large metal boxes stored in the open air on a bed of gravel when they discovered radioactive liquid beside one of the boxes. The container, with obvious signs of rust and deterioration, was thought to be storing only solid materials such as piping, gloves and masks discarded during the decades of plutonium production at Hanford.

A manager with the U.S. Department of Energy gave a “courtesy call” to an Ecology inspector the next day, reporting that workers had found some contamination on the ground near the storage container, but that “at this time (there is) no reason to believe that it (the contamination) is coming from the interior corner of the box.” The manager said it was likely “snow or ice melt” coming off the box, according to notes of the call.

Detailed notes from a meeting two weeks later show what the Department of Energy did not report in the phone call. The CH2M Hill workers recorded very hot Alpha readings from the liquid on the ground. One of the only things at Hanford that emits Alpha particles is Plutonium — the dangerously radioactive metal produced at Hanford between 1944 to 1989 for U.S. nuclear weapons program.

“(Those numbers) would indicate a problem, a serious problem,” said Wade Wagner, a retired radiation specialist from Hanford whose job was to record contamination levels at the site for 22 years. “The first thing I would do after verifying that level of Alpha contamination would be to get away from it. You don’t want that stuff in your system.”

Ecology investigated the incident and within three weeks confirmed the box was leaking and that there had been a dangerous waste spill into the environment.

But Energy Department employees said they didn’t agree. At the same time Ecology was confirming the serious nature of the incident and in fact, it was a leak. Energy spokesperson Cameron Hardy spoke with a Tri-Cities television reporter and denied those findings.

“Somebody misinterpreted the fact that there were drips as it being drips of something other than rainwater,” Hardy told the reporter. “Someone’s saying it’s a leaker, when it’s not.”

When the reporter asked why there would be readings of radioactivity from snow melt, the spokesperson didn’t have an answer, saying only, “I don’t know that answer.”

In March 2012, lab results came in with conclusive evidence. Dangerous toxics including lead, mercury, americium and plutonium had spilled onto the gravel.

“If a tiny fraction of plutonium gets in your lungs, you’re likely to get lung cancer,” said Steven Gilbert, a toxicologist who has worked on issues at Hanford for many years. “The point is you never want plutonium anywhere but contained. You never want it in the environment.”

A review of more than 2,000 state records by the KING 5 Investigators shows the Department of Energy and CH2M Hill stuck to their theory that the box never leaked and there was no release of radiation into the open air.

The documents also show state investigators were blocked for weeks from getting records about the incident and access to the site to take samples for themselves.

The stand-off between government agencies prompted state investigators to write up their frustrations in internal emails.
…more (http://www NULL.krem NULL.com/news/northwest-news/245519451 NULL.html)

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

Did DOE pump burnt radioactive trash into air for days to clear WIPP tunnnels and spike radiation?

The Department of Energy is preparing to re-enter the deep-underground waste repository to determine the cause of the spike

Radiation Levels Fall after Nuclear Waste Leak in New Mexico
26 February, 2014 – Scientific American

Radiation levels within and around the United States’ only deep-underground nuclear waste facility continue to drop, nearly two weeks after a mysterious leak triggered alarms and shut down the facility, according to data released this week by the US Department of Energy and an independent air-monitoring group.

The sharp spike and subsequent decline in radiation are suggestive of a single release of contamination on 14 February at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. It is the first reported leak at the WIPP, which is a permanent repository for nuclear waste that has been carved out of ancient salt beds 655 metres underground. Contamination escaped the facility, but officials say that the levels are low and pose no health threat. Because no one was underground when the radiation alarms went off, it remains unclear what caused the release.

One possibility is that a large chunk of salt fell from the ceiling of the repository and damaged one of the metal storage drums, says Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center at New Mexico State University, which independently monitors radiation at the site. “But until they get underground and find out what happened, it’s really all just speculation at this point,” he says.

The WIPP opened in 1999 and has since taken in more than 80,000 cubic metres of material – including work gloves, tools and machinery – that is contaminated with radioactive elements such as plutonium as well as hazardous chemicals. On 16 February, two days after the initial release, Hardy’s centre detected plutonium and americium contamination at an air-monitoring station 1 kilometre away from an exhaust shaft leading from the facility. The centre’s latest results, released on 25 February based on samples collected four days after the leak, identified no plutonium and sharply lower levels of americium. Hardy says that the centre’s data align with reports from the US Department of Energy. The agency estimated that a person at one of its above-ground monitoring stations would have sustained a cumulative radiation exposure of 1 millirem – ten times less radiation than that delivered during a typical chest X-ray.

Although no data were released from real-time radiation detectors within the facility this week, the Department of Energy says that radiation levels are dropping and seem to be limited to one section of the facility. Energy Department spokeswoman Deb Gill says that the agency and its contractors – an industry consortium led by the San Francisco-based URS Corporation – are still working on a plan to re-enter the facility.

The leak came nine days after an apparently unrelated incident in which a vehicle caught fire underground. The Department of Energy had already appointed a panel to investigate the fire, and that panel will now investigate the radiation leak as well, Gill says.

Hardy says his group is still analysing samples taken directly from the exhaust shaft – both before and after the air is filtered – and plans to release the results as early as today. The findings will determine whether the air filtration system, which is designed to capture 99.97% of the radiation, functioned properly. “We’ve never had to test it under live conditions,” Hardy says. …more (http://www NULL.scientificamerican NULL.com/article/radiation-levels-fall-after-nuclear-waste-leak-in-new-mexico/)

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

Death Sentence by Toxic Radioactive Poisioning looms over contaminated WIPP Workers

WIPP workers may have inhaled radioactive particles, test results show
26 February, 2014 – KOAT

CARLSBAD, N.M. —On Feb. 14, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant officials said a “radiological event” occurred. On Wednesday, 13 WIPP employees were notified about the results of a precautionary test for external contamination.
Related

Employees present the night of the event were checked for any external contamination before being allowed to leave the site. The site’s Radiological Control Program collected biological samples from each employee to check for possible exposure from inhaling airborne radioactive particles.

The baker’s dozen tested positive in that test, a bioassay. A bioassay measures the effects of a substance on a living organism.

According to a news release from the Department of Energy’s WIPP, “it is important to note that these are initial sample results.”

The bioassay analysis was to ensure the workers’ health and safety.

The radiological event was a leak at the plant. Other tests have shown radiation in the air near the plant.

WIPP is a deep geologic repository for the permanent disposal of defense-related transuranic nuclear waste, located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, N.M. …source (http://www NULL.koat NULL.com/news/new-mexico/wipp-workers-may-have-inhaled-radioactive-particles-test-results-show/24702766#ixzz2uTcAZtZI?)

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

The seriousness of the leak of WIPP cannot be understated – damage done will outlast humanity

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

Glossary

Additional Inventory-TRU waste produced prior to 1970 and buried in trenches at various DOE sites and all nondefense or commercial waste that DOE believes will be generated through 2033; some of the Additional Inventory is also contaminated with PCBs.

Alpha particles -relatively large, positively charged particles emitted by uranium and heavier elements. Can be stopped by paper or skin, but extremely damaging if swallowed or inhaled.

Aquifer – a saturated layer of rock or soil beneath the surface that can supply large amounts of water.

Backfill-filling
the empty spaces in the waste rooms and covering the stacked drums with salt, magnesium oxide or some other material.

Basic Inventory – defense TRU waste that has been placed in retrievable storage since 1970 and defense TRU waste that would continue to be generated through 2033. …more (http://cardnm NULL.org/glosscolfrm_a NULL.html)

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

WIPP leak, you ‘ain’t seen nothin yet’, DOE is trying to make a home for this waste at NM

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

DOE has Explosive Nuke Waste Storage Problem at Hanford and wants to dump it at WIPP

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

Whistleblower Fired After Raising Safety Concerns at Federal Nuclear Site

Donna Busche alleges retaliation and harassment by employer at Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Whistleblower Fired After Raising Safety Concerns at Federal Nuclear Site
By David Winograd – 18 February, 2014 – Time

A woman who raised concerns about safety conditions at an extremely polluted nuclear site in Washington State was fired Tuesday by her employer, which was contracted to clean up the facility.

URS Corp. told Donna Busche, 50, that she was being fired for cause, the Associated Press reports, but Busche alleges retaliation and harassment from her employer since she filed the safety complaint in 2011.

Busche is the second person to be fired from URS after raising concerns about safety at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the most polluted nuclear weapons production facility in the United States. Walter Tamosaitis, who worked at the company for 44 years, was fired in October.

The waste treatment company was hired to build a facility that would turn dangerous radioactive material at the site into glass. The clean-up at Hanford, which was built by the federal government in the 1940s to build the first atomic bomb, costs $2 billion a year.

The Energy Department, which owns Hanford, said it was not involved in the decision. The U.S. Department of Labor is reviewing Busche’s claims. …more (http://nation NULL.time NULL.com/2014/02/18/nuclear-waste-whistleblower-donna-busche-fired-hanford/)

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

DOE trying to ‘fast track’ Permit Modification to move explosive Hanford waste to WIPP

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

WIPP leak sparks state wide concern – DOE comes up short on answers, slow to respond

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February 27, 2014   No Comments

DOE comes up short on answers for wary public following Nuke Waste accident

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February 27, 2014   No Comments