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Dozens of containers of radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory are being packed as a precaution into concrete casks at a temporary storage facility in West Texas.
The waste was shipped to Andrews, Texas, due to the closure of the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southeastern New Mexico. The repository has been closed since February because of a radiation release.
Investigators have focused on a container from Los Alamos as the possible cause of the release.
Workers at the Texas facility are taking thermal readings of the waste containers before loading them into the concrete casks. The casks are then filled with gravel.
Equipment inside the casks monitors the internal temperature on a daily basis. Cameras are also monitoring the area where the waste is being stored.
Last week, LANL told the state on Wednesday that it has isolated and is closely monitoring nuclear waste on its campus that was packed with a type of cat litter suspected in a radiation leak at the government’s underground nuclear waste dump.
Responding to an order from state regulators for a detailed plan, the lab said the 55-gallon barrels have been secured in special containers and moved to an isolated area with a fire-protection system. They also are being monitored 24 hours a day for any change in temperature, smoking or other abnormalities.
“Los Alamos is committed to securing and isolating this waste while we continue to investigate the cause of the February release,” the lab said in a statement.
The state Environment Department said officials are “conducting a thorough technical review of their ongoing efforts ... and look forward to continued cooperation with the federal government to ensure protection of human health and our environment.”
Officials have linked a Feb. 14 radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico to a nitrate-salt bearing waste container from Los Alamos that was packed with organic cat litter to absorb moisture. Officials are investigating whether a chemical reaction in the containers caused the breach.
While the probe continues, the state has also ordered the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to submit a plan to isolate and seal off the two underground rooms where more than 350 containers of waste containing nitrate sales and organic cat litter are being stored.
More than 100 other suspect containers are being stored temporarily at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.