Storage bunkers sealed off at nuclear dump closed by leak

Jun 2, 2015, 3:48 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Hundreds of containers of waste have been entombed at the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico now that workers have closed off storage areas affected by a radiation leak, officials said Tuesday.

After months of work, crews finished sealing the last of two bunkers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant late Friday. The milestone was announced by state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn as he updated lawmakers gathered in Santa Fe on recovery efforts at the plant, which has been closed since the February 2014 leak.

Flynn described the closure of the area known as Panel 6 and one room within Panel 7 as a major accomplishment.

Inside the two areas were 422 containers packed with radioactive waste similar to the one that ruptured last year and caused the leak. The containers appear stable, but officials say they still include an incompatible mix of nitrate salts and organic cat litter used for absorbing moisture.

“We, along with the Department of Energy, believe that they needed to permanently close these panels as soon as possible in order to prevent against any additional releases,” Flynn told the lawmakers.

The state initially set a deadline for completing the work by the start of 2015, but closure of the panels was delayed in part by the investigation into the leak.

Workers used salt mined from another area of the repository, chain link, brattice cloth and steel bulkheads to close off the storage areas. They also installed air monitors.

“This is an unprecedented issue we’ve had to confront,” Flynn said. “There were certainly some problems early on, but I think we’re really starting to turn a corner now and we’re beginning to see some meaningful progress at the facility itself.”

The repository remains closed and federal officials have said it could take years and more than a half-billion dollars to resume full operations.

The Energy Department and the contractor that runs the repository aim to resume limited operations by this time next year, but Flynn told lawmakers he expects it will take longer.

WIPP’s closure has delayed cleanup of legacy waste like contaminated gloves, tools and clothing from decades of bomb-making across the federal government’s nuclear complex. In its 15 years of operation, the nuclear dump received shipments from more than 20 sites as part of the Energy Department’s multibillion-dollar-a-year cleanup program.

Investigators determined the container that ruptured and forced the closure was packed inappropriately at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb.

Flynn said there’s no longer any margin of error and the corrective actions called for by the state and federal investigators should prevent another mishap.

Flynn also outlined for lawmakers a $73.2 million settlement reached last month with the DOE. Nearly half of that will go toward improving transportation routes for hauling waste to the repository.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Science

(Dave Ellis/The Free Lance-Star via AP)...
Corbin Carson

Children’s brains are most elastic, moldable in their first 20 years

New research shows that human brains are most elastic in the first two decades of life.
7 years ago
FILE – This Oct. 21, 1954 file photo shows Dr. Frederick C. Robbins, new chief of pediatrics ...
Associated Press

Human fetal tissue long used for variety of medical studies

Controversy over Planned Parenthood's supplying fetal tissue for research has focused attention on a little-discussed aspect of science.
8 years ago
Malik Muhammad raises his fist during a demonstration calling for the firing and indictment of Texa...
Associated Press

Jail releases more footage of Sandra Bland before her death

Texas authorities on Tuesday released several hours of footage showing Sandra Bland during her three days in jail, saying they wanted to dispel rumors that she was dead before arriving there.
8 years ago
Associated Press

Spaceship pilot describes harrowing free fall after breakup

Free-falling miles above the desert, his test spaceship ripped to pieces and the frigid air hard to breathe, pilot Peter Siebold struggled through crippling injuries to turn on his oxygen and just to stay conscious.
8 years ago
William “Bill” Kelso, Director of Research and Interpretation for the Preservation Virg...
Associated Press

Remains of 4 early colonial leaders discovered at Jamestown

Archaeologists have uncovered human remains of four of the earliest leaders of the English colony that would become America, buried for more than 400 years near the altar of what was America's first Protestant church in Jamestown, Virginia.
8 years ago
n On Monday, July 27, 2015, Hermiston firefighters in hazmat suits carry what was reported as a sus...
Associated Press

FBI: Packages sent to Oregon sheriffs were not toxic

The FBI said Tuesday that no toxic substances have been found in letters sent to about 20 Oregon sheriffs or their offices.
8 years ago

Sponsored Articles

(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
Storage bunkers sealed off at nuclear dump closed by leak