High Radiation Levels Detected at New Mexico Waste Site

Image Note:  EXO = Enriched Xenon Observatory

[The WIPP facility was supposed to be one of the primary methods being eyeballed for storing radioactive waste long term. Originally envisioned in the 70s with construction started in the early 80s, waste is placed in specially designed casks and stored in a salt formation deep underground. While not a present threat to the surface, it will be interesting to see if this is a component failure or something more fundamental and systemic, such as with the tanks at Hanford.]


Reuters – Underground sensors have detected excessive radiation levels inside a nuclear waste storage site deep below New Mexico’s desert, but no workers have been exposed and there was no risk to public health, U.S. Department of Energy officials said on Sunday.

An air-monitoring alarm went off at 11:30 p.m. local time Friday indicating unsafe concentrations of radiation inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in what DOE officials said appeared to be the first such mishap since the facility opened in 1999.

As of Sunday, the source of the high radiation readings had yet to be determined, and a plan to send inspection teams below ground to investigate was put on hold as a precaution.

“They will not go in today. It’s a safety thing more than anything. We’re waiting until we get other assessments done before we authorize re-entry,” DOE spokesman Bill Mackie said.

The facility, located in southeastern New Mexico near Carlsbad, is designed as a repository for so-called transuranic waste, which includes discarded machinery, clothing and other materials contaminated with plutonium or other radioisotopes heavier than uranium.

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Read more about the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant here and here.