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Work at nuke dump to resume

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By Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The U.S. Energy Department on Friday authorized its contractor to resume the disposal of radioactive waste at an underground repository in southern New Mexico, setting the stage for the first barrel of waste to be taken below ground since a radiation release forced the facility’s closure nearly three years ago.
Agency officials said the approval confirms that numerous corrective actions identified during a recent review have been completed.
A team of Energy Department experts from around the nation found paperwork and documentation issues that needed to be fixed. The team also found procedural inadequacies regarding new requirements for accepting waste from national laboratories and other defense sites around the country.
The department called the authorization a major milestone.
“Safety has and will continue to be our number one priority,” department spokeswoman Bridget Bartol said, noting that workers at the site will complete minor maintenance on the walls and floors of the underground disposal area before waste-handling work resumes.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has been closed since February 2014 when a radiation release contaminated a significant portion of the repository, where disposal rooms are carved out of a thick salt formation deep underground.
The incident forced shipments from around the country to be put on indefinite hold and hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into recovery efforts and policy overhauls.
New Mexico regulators cited the federal government and the contractor for numerous permit violations related to the radiation release and an unrelated fire involving a mining truck just weeks earlier. The result was a multimillion-dollar settlement with the state.
Los Alamos National Laboratory, in northern New Mexico, was also cited since the container of waste that breached in 2014 had been inappropriately packed there before being shipped to the repository.
Investigators said the incident could have been avoided had managers not ignored existing policies and procedures for handling and treating the waste, which includes gloves, tools, clothing and other materials from decades of bomb-making and research.
The Energy Department on Friday released a slew of documents related to the readiness reviews that were conducted by state and federal officials in recent weeks. State officials gave their approval for work to resume in letters sent to the federal agency late last week.
Some watchdog groups had asked the department not to rush, citing the previous incidents and the importance of the facility to the nation’s multibillion-dollar cleanup of Cold War-era waste.