WIPP officials report second radiation leak

March 19, 2014 • Local News

New air sampling data from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant indicates there has been another small radiation release.

Department [auth] of Energy officials say a monitoring station picked up elevated radiation readings around the plant near Carlsbad on March 11, nearly a month after a Valentine’s Day leak contaminated 17 workers and shut down the only repository for toxic waste from the nation’s nuclear bomb-building program.

Engineers say they believe the contamination is from previous deposits on the inner surface of exhaust ductwork.

The latest radiation release has no expected health impacts to workers, the public or the environment, according to a news release from the Department of Energy. Samples collected at the same monitoring station, both prior to and for 72 hours after this release, have indicated background levels.

Data received recently show a single air sample from the ventilation exhaust recorded 61 disintegrations per minute of americium on a sample collected the evening of March 11, according to the DOE report.

This is expected, given the amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system during the Feb. 14 radiation release event.

The independent Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center is reporting similar environmental sampling results, according to the report.

According to the Center’s recent news release, CEMRC’s analysis continues to reflect that the air around the WIPP site is safe and poses no harm to the environment or the public.

Officials say occasional low-level releases are anticipated, but they should be well within safe limits.

The DOE release also reported that another set of 20 urine sample results for WIPP employees has come back negative. To date, 135 employees have been entered into the WIPP bioassay program, including many who requested testing.

At present, more than 100 urine samples have been analyzed and all results have been negative, the release states. Bioassay tests determine the presence of radioactive material in the human body by measuring radiation within the body through lung counting (looking for radioactive material in the lungs), or analyzing radioactive material in urine or fecal samples.

DOE officials say additional results will be posted as they become available. All results to date indicate risk levels to workers are well below occupational and health standards.

WIPP officials will hold another town hall meeting at 5:30 p.m. today in Carlsbad and the WIPP officials will meet with the Artesia City Council at 7 p.m. on Monday to update city officials on the recovery activities, according to the DOE release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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