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An Internet rumor has been fueling concerns this week about the need to be prepared to evacuate southeastern New Mexico because of recent events at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
According to a release from WIPP, there is absolutely no basis for these rumors. Monitoring conducted by Nuclear Waste Partnership of air, soil, water and vegetation is showing no radiation releases that would approach levels causing health concerns. Independent monitoring by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center has reached similar conclusions.
In a recent letter to New Mexico’s senators, Ron Curry, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, noted that “initial field measurements combined with modeling of potential public exposures indicate that it is very unlikely that any exposures would approach regulatory limits or represent a public health concern.”
A package of work and safety controls required before safe re‐entry can take place at the WIPP has been prepared by Nuclear Waste Partnership, the management and operations contractor at WIPP. The package will be submitted to the Department of Energy for review and approval, the next step before sending personnel into the WIPP underground facility to understand the source of the recent radiation release.
The safety inspections of both the Salt Handling and Air Intake shafts, which require personnel to ride the mine hoist, or elevator, to the bottom of the shaft, will begin after WIPP receives DOE approval. This activity will then be followed by a second personnel entry into the mine to assure a safe route between the Salt Handling and Air Intake shafts, and to ensure two exits from the mine. The third entry will be made to identify the source of the radioactive contamination.
The Department of Energy and Global Management & Operations Services (GMOS), a division of URS, and parent company to Nuclear Waste Partnership, have engaged experts across the nation to support WIPP recovery efforts.
DOE and the Mine Safety and Health Administration have mobilized experts to supplement the Carlsbad Field Office in key areas, including nuclear operations, ventilation systems, nuclear safety and mine safety.
DOE’s Savannah River Site sent a team of radiological control technicians, who will re‐enter the mine with experienced WIPP personnel to isolate and mitigate the source of underground contamination.
Idaho National Laboratory provided a plutonium event recovery expert and additional radiological equipment. Los Alamos National Laboratory provided a high efficiency air particulate (HEPA) filters specialist. URS‐CH2M Oak Ridge, contractor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, brought radiological cleanup expertise to WIPP.
Bob McQuinn, who will lead Nuclear Waste Partnership through WIPP recovery efforts, addressed NWP employees at a March 17 all‐hands meeting. McQuinn expressed confidence that WIPP will recover from February’s fire and radiological event. He discussed the challenges that lie ahead in coming weeks and asked for the employees’ support as WIPP transitions from recovery to restart of operations.
McQuinn brings 35 years of experience including a number of years at LANL in DOE nuclear and hazard operations to WIPP. NWP manages and operates the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for the U.S. Department of Energy.