HazMat Management

DOE making headway in New Mexico nuclear leak investigation


Print this page

May 29, 2014 by Hazmat Management


Amid concerns over stored nuclear waste, US authorities continue to investigate the February 2014 radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, the country’s only deep geological repository for nuclear waste.

Caution is being exercised around at least 368 drums of waste at the site that could be susceptible to the chemical reaction suspected to have caused a drum to rupture and leak into the ground. The link was made after investigators discovered an unsealed drum lid showing significant heat discoloration

“We do not yet know exactly what caused the damage to the drum or if this is the only waste drum that was involved,” the US Department of Energy says in a May 19, 2014 statement to media.

“We will pursue more visual evidence through photographs and video, taking samples off of potentially contaminated surfaces, and performing chemical and radiological analysis of materials as we continue to pinpoint the release,” the department adds. “Meanwhile, we are working with officials at Los Alamos and Waste Control Specialists in Texas, where similar drums are temporarily stored, to ensure they are stored and handled safely.”

To mitigate the threat of another leak, the New Mexico Environment Department in Santa Fe issued an order on May 20, 2014 giving the US Department of Energy and the Nuclear Waste Partnership — the contractor that operates the WIPP site — until May 30, 2014 to come up with a plan to “expedite” the sealing of panel 6 and part of panel 7. 

This low-resolution WIPP video clip was produced by use of a rope camera that was lowered between columns of waste for a closer look at the bottom and middle row of some waste containers in the affected area.   CLICK HERE TO WATCH    (18 MB)