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Crews searching for the source of a radiation release from the government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico have found damaged bags of minerals in the mine, but officials say they have yet to identify what caused the radiation leak.
The U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday that workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant found several huge bags of magnesium chloride that are placed on top of waste containers to absorb moisture and carbon dioxide have been “grossly disturbed.”
It’s not clear, however, what damaged the bags. And officials say they haven’t found any structural damage in the waste-storage area of the repository near Carlsbad.
The dump has been shuttered since a Feb. 14 leak sent low levels of radiation into the air, contaminating 21 workers with radiation.
According to a press release from WIPP, new air sampling results from the cities of Hobbs, Eunice, Loving and Artesia show no detectable radiological contamination.
A total of 89 air samples have been collected from 15 locations since the Feb. 14 event.
All air sampling results after Feb. 18 show no contamination.
Progress, meanwhile, continues on the cleanup of the Waste Hoist tower and hoist control area, which was coated in a layer of soot during the Feb. 5 underground salt haul truck fire.
Teams finished cleaning the fifth floor of the tower and are now concentrating their efforts on the third and fourth floors.
According to the WIPP release, the crew is using vacuums equipped with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to clear soot before washing the area.