Posted: Nov 03, 2015 5:15 PM CST Updated: Nov 03, 2015 5:39 PM CST
Posted: Nov 03, 2015 5:15 PM CST Updated: Nov 03, 2015 5:39 PM CST
(NaturalNews) A five-year fire is burning beneath a landfill in a St. Louis suburb, and it’s rapidly approaching an old cache of nuclear waste.
At present, St. Louis County emergency officials are unsure whether or not the fire will set off a reaction that releases a radioactive plume over the city. An emergency plan was put together in October 2014 to “save lives in the event of a catastrophic event at the West Lake Landfill.”
St. Louis County officials warn, “There is a potential for radioactive fallout to be released in the smoke plume and spread throughout the region.”
Many residents are taking precautions; some are buying gas masks, while others are considering moving away. Just recently, over 500 local residents discussed the precarious situation at a church meeting which usually draws in less than 50 people.
Nothing stands in the way of the uncontrollable landfill fire, which is smoldering hot underneath the trash of the West Lake Landfill of Bridgeton County, St. Louis. This “smoldering event” is not uncommon. Fires ignite and smolder under landfills because the trash becomes so compact and hot. In this case, the fire is brewing less than a quarter mile from an old deposit of nuclear waste that threatens to spread cancer-causing radon gas.
Surprisingly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) isn’t taking the situation very seriously.
EPA officials admit that although the waste may eventually emit radon gas, it won’t affect anything outside the landfill property. This is the same EPA that polluted the Colorado River with 3 million gallons of toxic sludge full of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. EPA contractors breached a mine, sending the sludge flowing into the Animas river, which quickly turned putrid and murky. That pollution has now spread to New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, infiltrating the countryside with toxic elements. Why should anyone in St. Louis County trust the EPA with radioactive waste?
To make matters worse, the EPA isn’t even worried about the fire reaching the nuclear waste. “We just do not agree with the finding that the subsurface smoldering event is approaching the radiologically impacted material,” said Mary Peterson, director of the Superfund division for EPA Region 7.
There have been no plans to remove the radioactive waste as of yet, leaving local residents baffled and worried. Most residents were unaware of the existence of the radioactive waste, which had been dumped there illegally four decades ago. If it weren’t for activists educating the public about the waste, no one would know.
The radioactive waste includes 8,700 tons of leached barium sulfate residue. It was illegally dumped in the West Lake Landfill by Cotter Corporation sometime after World War II and wasn’t discovered by investigators until 1973. The radioactive waste was left behind due to the mishandling of uranium by Mallinckrodt Chemical Works, a company that started out working for the federal government’s Manhattan Project.
Since 1990, the West Lake Landfill has been managed by the EPA and deemed a Superfund site. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recently warned all agencies not to disturb the surface of the landfill. They warned that radium-226, radon-222 and radium-228 could be released into the air, putting people near the landfill at risk.
The agency reported that radon levels in the area are often measured above regulations “by as much as 10 to 25 times at individual surface test locations.” Moreover, radium increases people’s risk of developing bone, liver and breast cancer.
The EPA is downplaying the potential for a Chernobyl or Fukushima-like disaster, but residents have every reason not to trust the agency’s guesswork, given its decades-long refusal to safely remove the radioactive material from the area.
The NaturalNews Network is a non-profit collection of public education websites covering topics that empower individuals to make positive changes in their health, environmental sensitivity, consumer choices and informed skepticism. The NaturalNews Network is owned and operated by Truth Publishing International, Ltd., a Taiwan corporation. It is not recognized as a 501(c)3 non-profit in the United States, but it operates without a profit incentive, and its key writer, Mike Adams, receives absolutely no payment for his time, articles or books other than reimbursement for items purchased in order to conduct product reviews.
The vast majority of our content is freely given away at no charge. We offer thousands of articles and dozens of downloadable reports and guides (like the Honest Food Guide) that are designed to educate and empower individuals, families and communities so that they may experience improved health, awareness and life fulfillment.
More than 40 years ago, radioactive waste was dumped at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton. The decades since have been filled with legal and political moves that have not gotten the site cleaned up.
Now a growing number of residents want to know how dangerous it is to live and work in the area as a fire burns underground in the adjoining Bridgeton Landfill. More than 500 people showed up at a Bridgeton church on Thursday for a meeting organized by residents. The monthly meetings held for the last two years typically attract no more than 50.
The surge in public interest comes after state reports showed the fire is moving toward the nuclear waste, and radioactive materials can be found in soil, groundwater and trees outside the perimeter of the landfill.
At least six school districts have sent letters home in the last week outlining their plans for a potential nuclear emergency. St. Louis County recently released its own emergency evacuation plan that was written last year.
Underground fires are common in landfills as buried garbage can get hot, much like the bottom of a compost pile. Typically they are monitored and allowed to burn out. But none of the fires have gotten so close to nuclear waste, which was created during the World War II era for St. Louis’ part in the production of the atomic bomb.
Authorities in the small city of Nikko in Japan’s Tochigi Prefecture, some 175 km away from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, have said that at least 334 bags containing radioactive soil have been swept into a tributary of the Kinugawa river, The Asahi Shimbun reports.
According to the city’s authorities, the washed-away waste was only part of hundreds of bags being stored at the Kobyakugawa Sakura Koen park alongside the river. Another 132 bags of waste reportedly rolled down the slopes.
Flooding swept away radiation cleanup bags in Fukushima http://asserttrue.blogspot.com/2015/09/friday-water-cooler_18.html …
Tokyo Electric Power Co turned down requests in 2009 by the nuclear safety agency to consider concrete steps against tsunami waves at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which suffered a tsunami-triggered disaster two years later, government documents showed Friday.
“Do you think you can stop the reactors?” a TEPCO official was quoted as telling Shigeki Nagura of the now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, who was then assigned to review the plant’s safety, in response to one of his requests.
The detailed exchanges between the plant operator and regulator came to light through the latest disclosure of government records on its investigation into the nuclear crisis, adding to evidence that TEPCO failed to take proper safety steps ahead of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
According to records of Nagura’s accounts, Nagura heard TEPCO’s explanations of its tsunami estimates at the agency office in Tokyo in August and September 2009 as it was becoming clear that the coastal areas of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures were hit by massive tsunami in an 869 earthquake.
TEPCO said the height of waves was estimated to be around 8 meters above sea level and will not reach the plant site located at a height of 10 meters, they show.
But Nagura said he remembered thinking pumps with key cooling functions, which are located on the ground at a height of 4 meters, “will not make it” and told TEPCO, “If this is the outcome, you better consider concrete responses.”
April 25th, 2014, 20:57 GMT · By Laura Sinpetru
Earlier this year, on February 16, the Department of Energy in the United States announced that excessive levels of radiation had been documented at a nuclear waste site in New Mexico. The site in question is known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, and it presently accommodates for transuranic waste.
Recent news on the topic says that, according to a report shared with the public by the Department of Energy this past Thursday, this incident at said nuclear waste site in New Mexico could have been avoided.
As previously reported, traces of radiation were picked up by underground sensors at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on Friday, February 14. This increase in radiation levels most likely occurred as a result of a leak inside one of the facility’s waste-storage vaults.
Despite the fact that these waste-storage vaults sit at a depth of about 2,000 feet (nearly 610 meters), some radioactive contamination somehow worked its way above ground. There is evidence to indicate that this happened due to the fact that the emergency filtration system failed to contain it.
NPR informs that, in its report, the Department of Energy argues that the waste storage vault leaked partly due to improper maintenance, poor management, and unsuitable training and oversight.
A radiation release from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico was the result of a slow erosion of the safety culture at the 15-year-old site, which was evident in the bungled response to the emergency, federal investigators said in a report released Thursday.
The report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Accident Investigation Board cited poor management, ineffective maintenance and a lack of proper training and oversight at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. The report also found that much of the operation failed to meet standards for a nuclear facility.
The series of shortcomings are similar to those found in a probe of the truck fire in the half-mile-deep mine just nine days before the Feb. 14 radiation release that shuttered the plant indefinitely.
Given the latest findings, watchdog Don Hancock said the leak that contaminated 21 workers with low doses of radiation in mid-February was a “best-case scenario.”
“Everything conspired for the least bad event to occur, based on what we know — and there is a still a lot we don’t know,” he said.
Last month, the head of the Defense Nuclear Safety Board, which has staff monitoring the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, called the accidents “near misses.”
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Chairman Peter Winokur said that for six days after the fire, no underground air monitors were operational, meaning that if that system had failed when the leak occurred Feb. 14, “or if the release event had occurred three days earlier, the release of radioactive material from the aboveground mine exhaust would have been orders of magnitude larger.”
DOE Accident Investigation Board Chairman Ted Wyka previewed the findings of the latest report at a community meeting Wednesday night, identifying the root cause as a “degradation of key safety management and safety culture.”
While the cause of a radiation leak at the United States’ first nuclear waste repository remains unknown, officials have reportedly pinpointed the facility’s contaminated area.
According to the Associated Press, the Department of Energy’s Tammy Reynolds told residents in Carlsbad, New Mexico, that no definitive conclusions can be made regarding the latest discovery, but that further investigation into the area should produce some information next week.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) has been shut down since February 14, when increased radiation levels were detected inside and outside the plant.
On Wednesday, crews investigating the leak made their way into the WIPP and inspected the facility’s various panels, or the large underground salt beds where nuclear waste is stored. These panels are located about a half-mile below the Earth’s surface, and after five hours of inspection they found that Panel 7 was the source of the leaked contamination.
On April 16, more than two months after an underground air monitor detected airborne radiation underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) nuclear waste burial site in Carlsbad, New Mexico (see “Thirteen workers exposed to radiation in New Mexico nuclear waste site” ), a search team clad in heavy protective gear discovered the location of the contamination.
Since moving in the heavy-duty suits is slow and laborious, and the team’s respiratory equipment was running low, the team turned back before pinpointing the exact source of the leak, determining only that it is in a storage unit known as panel seven. This means that more trips to the 2,150-feet-deep panel will be required to find the source and to deal with it.
On the night of February 14, the monitor set off an alert, causing evacuation of the area and a halt to deliveries. Since then, the number of WIPP workers found to be contaminated with radiation has risen from 13 to 21. In addition, increased radiation has been detected in surrounding areas above ground.
The leak followed on the heels of an incident on February 5 in which a salt-hauling truck caught fire underground. 86 workers had to be evacuated. Six were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and seven others were treated on site.
A March 14 DOE (Department of Energy) Office of Environment Management report on the fire “identifies shortcomings in the preventive maintenance program, emergency management, and emergency response training and drills by the Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC managing and operating DOE Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M., and it also faults the oversight provided by DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office,” according to an ohsonline.com article.
The article adds that the report “finds the NWP/Carlsbad Field Office emergency management program is not fully compliant with DOE’s requirements for a comprehensive emergency management system. While the report identified the direct cause of the incident…the investigative board identified 21 error precursors on the date of the fire. The truck operator’s training and qualification were inadequate to ensure proper response to a vehicle fire, and he did not initially notify the Central Monitoring Room that there was a fire or describe the fire’s location.”
Joe Franco, DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office manager, claimed, “We take these findings seriously and, in fact, we are already implementing many of the corrective actions in the report.”
However, criticism of WIPP from outside the DOE—from scientific, community and environmental organizations—has been constant since planning for the project began decades ago.
WIPP’s history traces its roots to the emergence of the US as a nuclear power during and after World War II. As the development of nuclear weapons picked up its pace, the problem of the accumulation of so-called transuranic waste, or TRU, developed along with it. TRU contains the elements americium and plutonium—which has a half-life in the tens of thousands of years—and contact with or ingestion of it, although it is categorized as “low-level,” is carcinogenic in minute amounts.
The Department of Energy began a search for a location to dispose of TRU, and after other proposed sites were rejected, decided in the early 1970s to begin testing on an area known as the Delaware Basin in southeastern New Mexico, about 26 miles east of the town of Carlsbad. A salt basin formed about 250 million years ago, and below some 300 meters (1,000 feet) of soil and rock, it was promoted by government officials and some scientists as an ideal waste disposal spot.
Published on Mar 27, 2014
Error suspected in spent fuel removal trouble
TEPCO officials say a worker mistakenly tried to operate the crane with an auxiliary brake on. Noticing the error, he released the brake and retried, but the crane failed to operate once the warning lamp had gone on.
Govt.’s new plan for Fukushima waste storage sites
Japan’s government has shown Fukushima officials a new plan to build interim storage facilities for contaminated soil and other radioactive waste.
The plan calls for reducing the number of towns to host the facilities in Fukushima Prefecture from 3 to 2, following demands by local governments.
Water treatment system halted again
The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has halted one of the 3 lines of the key water treatment system at the complex.
Tokyo Electric Power Company says the line of the Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS, was suspended on Thursday morning after workers found possible signs of abnormality in the water to be fed into the facility.
TV: More workers rushed to hospital at U.S. nuclear site — 17 sickened in past week — Former Employee: “It’s pretty scary… to have this many in 8 days is really abnormal” — Company: We’re trying to understand what’s happening (VIDEO)
Mexicans concerned, anxious about WIPP radiation release — City of 2.5 million nearly 200 miles away “within transnational evacuation zone in event of a nuclear disaster” — Local officials meeting with U.S. gov’t — Whistleblower: If plutonium released “surrounding population should take precautions”
Reports: “Experts agree many species of wildlife and fisheries are endangered globally due to large release of radioactivity into ocean” at Fukushima — “Has Fukushima radiation entered New Zealand ecosystem?”
[100m3 overflow] No information obtained about a potential suspect / Tepco practically give up investigation
Tanks are decontaminated by human workers getting inside
Tepco “There may be multiple sources of groundwater contamination”
Japan Defends Retaining Large Stockpile of Plutonium
The Fukushima Fallout
Hunting for Hope Amid the Ocean’s Biggest Nuclear Disaster Ever
[ALPS] Entire system shut down → Reboot → New leakage → Shut down again
[100m3 overflow] Tritium density in groundwater spiking up 60m east from the overflowed tank
M5.4 hit South part of Japan on 3/26/2014 / Possible aftershock not recorded by Meteorological Agency for some reason
Texas nuclear disposal site steps in to store WIPP-bound waste
TV: US Senators want federal agents near WIPP to check if safe; “A lot more people could have been hurt a lot worse” — Public “skeptical whole truth about environmental risks shared” — Report: “It will shut WIPP down for a year or more, and now everyone is talking about maybe WIPP is no good” (VIDEO)
Northwest News Network | March 25, 2014 6:31 p.m.
Some workers from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s tank farms were transported to a Richland hospital Tuesday morning.
Many employees have been complaining of feeling ill after smelling chemical vapors this week.
Hanford is home to large underground tanks grouped into herds called “farms.” They contain a toxic brew of 56 million gallons of radioactive sludge and industrial chemicals — the leftovers from plutonium production during WWII and the Cold War.
This past week, several batches of workers have complained of smelling vapors during their normal operations. Some of them were examined at Hanford’s own medical center. But two sickened workers were sent to Richland’s hospital and released later.
Washington River Protection Solutions, the company that employs these tank farm workers, acknowledges that Hanford tanks do generate vapors that are vented into the air. The company says it has safety procedures in place and is monitoring the vapors in the farms.
Full Washington River Protection Solutions statement:
Police and state health officials are investigating the illegal dumping of radioactive filter socks in an abandoned gas station in the tiny remote town of Noonan in Divide County.
“This is a vacant building filled with toxic waste,” said Divide County Sheriff’s Deputy Zach Schroeder, lead investigator, who says the building’s apparent owner is a fugitive on felony larceny charges in Wyoming and so far not traceable.
The building’s contents were reported two weeks ago to Divide County Emergency Manager Jody Gunlock, who said the situation was turned over to the state Health Department and Divide County law enforcement.
Health Department waste division manager Scott Radig said the building contains at least twice as much filter sock material and is more than twice as radioactive as the open trailers loaded with the socks discovered near Watford City three weeks ago.
Schroeder said six separate rooms in the old Mobil gas station contain industrial-sized black garbage bags of filter socks. He estimates at least 200 bags or more are piled into the dirt-floor structure’s warren of rooms.
Schroeder said he’s trying to track down the building owner so the state can jointly develop a cleanup plan. He said county records show Ken Ward, or his wife, own the building as of January 2012, though property taxes for the year were paid by his mother, Edie Ward, who sells real estate in Montana. He said Ken Ward, who escaped police custody, is nowhere to be found.
From records in the building, Schroeder said he has identified a filter sock supply company, Acceleration Production of Watford City, and hopes that will help identify the oil field service company that used them in oil field operations and ditched them in the building.
Published on Mar 8, 2014
What’s Leaking From the Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Program
Located near Carlsbad, New Mexico this Department of Energy (DOE) experimental nuclear waste dump is attempting to store leftover radioactive plutonium and americium from the US weapons program. On February 14, 2014 there was a nuclear safety failure at the site and the Department of Energy is not being honest about it. In this film Fairewinds Energy Education’s Arnie Gundersen pieces together what happened and points out Fairewinds’ major concerns about the facility, the accident, and the lack of transparency at the DOE.
US Gov’t: Never faced challenge like this, but “not giving up hope” at WIPP; Salt from contaminated mine to be sold as feed to dairy farms — TV: “Residents flat out concerned for their safety”; “I want to believe them… but I don’t” — Reuters: ‘Falling slabs’ may have breached waste drums (VIDEO)
Subsidence concerns at WIPP nuclear dump — Over 100 operating oil and gas wells within mile of site, a ‘very active’ area — Reserves ‘directly underneath’ buried waste — Fracking to take place nearby? (VIDEO)
“WIPP release story doesn’t add up… accident is unbelievable” — New tests show “high level” release underground — “Contains things far more radioactive than High Level Waste” — “I want to hear what really happened down there” (VIDEO)
WIPP Expert: Nuclear waste is getting out above ground — Plutonium / Americium found in “every single worker” on site when leak began — New Mexico officials ‘totally unsatisfied’ with lack of info from Feds — “We don’t know how far away it’s gone” — Continuing threat for long time to come (AUDIO)
Robot to probe underground at WIPP
Major Nuclear Dump Has Leaked, But Does US Gov’t Have a Plan B?
Experts warn that troubled repository does not bode well for U.S. strategy for disposal of waste from nuclear weapons development
A recent radiation leak at America’s only nuclear waste repository threatens the future of waste storage in the country. But leaders in the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico, still want their area to be a destination for America’s radioactive history.
Carlsbad works underground.
On the road into the city, derricks pump oil from deep in the Earth.
Residents go to work mining potash, a raw material used in fertiliser. Others give tours at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
And some of Carlsbad’s underground workers make a half-mile (0.8km) journey into the earth not to take from the ground, but to bury the wastes of human invention.
This is WIPP, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the only long-term geologic repository for nuclear waste in the United States.
While other locales across the US have fought mightily to prevent the establishment of similar operations, almost all of Carlsbad is sanguine about the storage of nuclear materials just a 40-minute drive from the centre of town.
That confidence has been tested this month after a radiation leak and the initial report 13 workers had tested positive for radioactive contamination.
And as the only permanent storage facility for nuclear waste, problems at WIPP create problems for the larger US nuclear defence complex, including delays of already scheduled shipments from around the country.
But it is the first serious incident in WIPP’s history, and Carlsbad still appears to have confidence, albeit slightly shaken, in the site.
In fact, town officials are hoping their corner of New Mexico can be the home of even more nuclear waste.
ALBUQUERQUE – The federal government’s only underground nuclear waste dump remained shuttered Monday and state environment officials said they have set deadlines for the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractor to deal with radioactive waste left above ground at the repository.Dozens of drums and other special containers that have been shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant from federal facilities around the country are being stored in a parking area at the plant and inside the facility’s waste handling building.
From there, the waste is usually taken to its final resting place deep in underground salt beds. However, the repository has been closed since early February due to back-to-back accidents, including a radiation release that exposed at least 13 workers and set off air monitoring devices around the plant.
Under its permit with the state, the dump can keep waste stored in the parking area for only 30 days and up to 60 days in the handling building. Due to the closure, the state is extending those deadlines to 60 days and 105 days, respectively. The federal government would have to develop an alternative storage plan if the underground dump remains off-limits for more than three months.
The Environment Department outlined the deadlines, along with requirements for weekly reports and a mandatory inspection before operations resume, in an administrative order made public Monday.
Machinery sits in one of the underground tunnels that will used to transport nuclear waste to be stored in underground chambers at WIPP, the controversial nuclear waste dump site in New Mexico. | Joe Raedle via Getty Images
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Employees who were working at the nation’s underground nuclear waste dump when it started leaking didn’t show signs of external contamination, but officials say biological samples show 13 workers suffered some exposure to radiation.
The U.S. Department of Energy and the contractor that runs the Waste Isolation Pilot Project declined to comment further on the preliminary test results announced Wednesday, saying they’ll discuss the issue at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
“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. “These employees, both federal and contractor, will be asked to provide additional samples in order to fully determine the extent of any exposure.”
All employees who were working at the southeastern New Mexico plant when the leak occurred late Feb. 14 were 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.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The radiation exposure of at least 13 workers at a nuclear dump in a New Mexico salt bed more than 2,000 feet below the ground has brought new attention to the nation’s long struggle to find places to dispose of tons of Cold War-era waste.
The above-ground radiation release that exposed the workers during a night shift two weeks ago shut down the facility as authorities investigate the cause and attempt to determine the health effects on the employees. The mishap has also raised questions about a cornerstone of the Department of Energy’s $5-billion-a-year program for cleaning up waste scattered across the country from decades of nuclear-bomb making.
With operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on hold, so are all shipments, including the last of nearly 4,000 barrels of toxic waste that Los Alamos National Laboratory has been ordered to remove from its campus by the end of June. Other waste from labs in Idaho, Illinois and South Carolina is also without a home while operations are halted.
Published on Feb 17, 2014
Published on Sep 28, 2012 by MrJmccammon
Primer for upcoming episodes of Fukushima and Beyond – Nuclear Waste by High Country Cow Punk.
Alternative Views Episode 427
1989 “The WIPP Trail” Originally Produced by Alternative Information Network
Produced by Frank Morrow
Hosts Frank Morrow and Doug Kellner
Transfer from glorious magnetic tape, Enjoy (IF you listen closely one can hear the hum of mechanical tracking, ah the good old days)
A documentary showing the ravages of nuclear power and nuclear bomb testing
on the people and environment, particularly in the New Mexico area. “The
WIPP Trail” provides statements from both sides, which reveal governmental
collusion with the nuclear industry. Funny there is a Roswell connection!
Creative Commons License: Attribution-Non-Commercial- Share Alike 3.0 USA
Redistribute This! Clips taken from video O.K. but must remain non-commercial and attribution necessary.
“The WIPP Trail” Copyright 1989
Copyright October, 1990
source video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Onj5EH…
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 at the site, known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, activated air filters as a precaution and barred personnel from entering the 2,150-foot-deep repository as they investigate what caused the leak. Radiation sensors sounded alarms late Friday, when no workers were in the underground portions of the plant.
Officials at the site discounted any effect on human health, saying no radiation escaped to the surface. But they said little about the extent of the problem or how it could be cleaned up.
“Officials at WIPP continue to monitor the situation,” spokeswoman Deb Gill said. “We are emphasizing there is no threat to human health and the environment.”
How long the repository will be closed and the impact on the defense nuclear cleanup program was unclear.
The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project, a federal operation in eastern Idaho that is the biggest user of WIPP, said Monday that it had suspended waste shipments.
Gill said the repository shutdown occurred earlier this month after another incident in which a truck caught fire in an underground tunnel. That matter is still under investigation.
Any prolonged shutdown could cause a backup of waste at a dozen nuclear-weapons-related sites across the nation. In 2012, those dozen sites made 846 shipments to the dump, more than two per day. A spokesman at the Idaho operation said it was continuing normal business and storing the waste onsite.
WIPP officials have said little about what could have triggered the radiation leak.
A New Mexico deep-earth repository for the U.S. military’s nuclear waste has likely sprung an underground radiation leak, sparking concern among Native American communities and other residents who “carry the burden” of this state’s nuclear legacy.
“Since the detonation and creation of first atomic bomb in New Mexico, we the people who live in close proximity of storage and creation of these weapons have been in a state of fear,” said Kathy Wanpovi Sanchez, Environmental Health and Justice Program Manager for Tewa Women United, an indigenous organization based in Northen Mexico.
Over the weekend, abnormally high levels of radioactive particles were found underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico, where radioactive waste, including from nuclear weapons production, is dumped deep beneath the earth’s surface and stored in salt formations.
“I believe it’s safe to say we’ve never seen a level like we are seeing. We just don’t know if it’s a real event, but it looks like one,” said Department of Energy spokesman Roger Nelson.
WIPP stores waste that releases alpha and beta radiation, which are highly cancerous when ingested, explained Arnie Gundersen, former nuclear industry executive turned whistleblower, in an interview with Common Dreams. DOE officials say radiation has not been detected in surface samples, and no workers have been exposed. They say they do not yet know the source of the suspected underground leak.
Gundersen says the technology behind WIPP is untested — hence the word “pilot” in the facility’s title. “As a society, we believe that if you stick things in the earth, they are safe,” he said. “But with radioactivity, it’s not dead. It can come back to haunt you if there is a leak afterwards. This is alive.”
Don Hancock, Director of the Nuclear Waste Program at the Southwest Research and Information Center, says the concerns about the site extend beyond the method of nuclear waste storage. “We have always thought the site is a bad site primarily because it is centrally located in one of the largest and most active oil and gas production areas in the United States. This does not seem to be an appropriate place to put waste.”
The incident comes just over a week after an underground truck fire forced an evacuation of the facility.
Nuclear experts are not convinced that the situation is safe. “This kind of incident is not supposed to happen,” said Hancock. “Just like the fire on the underground, there were these two incidents within a 12-day period. That is worrisome and that is a significant situation.”
Storage is not the only issue facing local residents. Nuclear waste transported from across the country, and across the state from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the north, where nuclear weapons are developed, passes through “Native American reservations, major highways, and near school systems,” as it makes its way to WIPP, says Sanchez.
“Our pain and death due to cancer have been ignored. We are sick and tired of all this madness. And all this transportation and waste storage is for the benefit of a nuclear war weapons arsenal. Why?” asked Sanchez. “The U.S. government disregards and takes advantage of indigenous people. This is an unequal share of the burden we are carrying.”
She added, “This is highly toxic poisoning that can be eliminated by stopping the desire to be a nuclear power over the world.”