On Thurs of this week AlertsUSA subscribers were notified via a text message to their mobile device that the Department of Energy had confirmed the airborne release of Plutonium-239 & Americium-241 from underground nuclear waste storage site near Carlsbad, NM.
Known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the facility is the nation’s only licensed deep geological nuclear waste repository. Located approximately 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the facility is the nation’s solution for permanent disposal of the Department of Energy's cold war legacy transuranic waste that has been stored at 23 former nuclear-weapons-complex and generation sites located across 13 states.
The term transuranic refers to artificially made radioactive elements, such as neptunium, plutonium, americium, and others, that have atomic numbers higher than uranium in the periodic table of elements. None of these elements are stable and each of them decays radioactively into other elements.
The event began late on 2/15 when air monitors detected elevated radiation levels in the plants underground storage complex located more than 2000 feet beneath the surface. No employees were working underground at the time and those on the surface sheltered in place as a precaution.
Fast forward to this week. Operations at the facility have been halted and workers have been unable reenter the underground storage complex due to high radiation levels. On Wednesday, tests by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, a division of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, showed the presence americium and plutonium on at least one air filter retrieved from a sampling station located a half mile from the from the WIPP site.
Normally the filters are retrieved on a daily basis. Given the original incident the previous Friday, the filters had not been retrieved for testing in 5 days.
It is highly disturbing that the Department of Energy waited several days before notifying New Mexico state officials about the airborne release...
According to Russell Hardy, director of the center, the radiation levels are the highest ever detected at or around the site. The Department of Energy states they are still not aware of the cause of the radiation release in underground complex as workers have been unable to get back inside, let alone how radiation managed to get to the surface, if this was a one-time event or an ongoing release.
DOE also indicates that operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant will not resume anytime soon and it could three or four weeks before workers can go underground to survey the possible source of the radiation release.
Despite the fact that everyone, at least publicly, is shrugging their shoulders as to the cause and severity, Department of Energy Carlsbad Field Office Manager Joe Franco assured the public in a news conference Thursday afternoon that the environment, personnel and public are not at risk.
It is interesting to note that despite this claim of no risk to the public, the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center is providing free lung and body scans to concerned adult citizens living within a 100-mile radius of the WIPP facility.
AlertsUSA Threat Journal reminds readers that rule number one in crisis management is to control the message. As is always the case with public reporting on nuclear accidents, be it the Fukushima disaster in Japan, environmental contamination and health hazards from failing storage tanks at the Hanford site in Washington State or any of the dozens of other radiological incidents and unintentional releases occurring annually at nuclear facilities around the country, all formal statements invariably include the standard boilerplate material indicating "no current threat to the public."
Given all the unknowns,
what is firmly established
is that americium and plutonium have been released into the atmosphere. Both elements primarily emit alpha radiation rather than beta or gamma radiation. External exposure to alpha particles isn't a major health risk because they have a low penetration depth and are usually stopped by skin. On the other hand, when alpha-emitters are breathed in or ingested, which is the primary concern with this incident, they are extremely hazardous, can irradiate internal organs and are capable of causing considerable chromosomal damage and cancer.
Read more about this important story by clicking HERE.
AlertsUSA continues to closely monitor the situation at the WIPP facility and will issue additional alert messages to subscriber mobile devices as events warrant.