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Management, safety cited for radiation release at WIPP

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Poor management, an eroding safety culture, ineffective maintenance and a lack of proper oversight are being blamed for a radiation release that contaminated 21 workers and shuttered the federal government’s nuclear waste dump two months ago in southeastern New Mexico.
The series of shortcomings are identified in a report to be released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Accident Investigation Board and are similar to those found in a probe of truck fire in the half-mile-deep mine just nine days before the Feb. 14 radiation release from the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) near Carlsbad.
Board chairman Ted Wyka previewed the findings at a community meeting Wednesday, identifying the root cause as a “degradation of key safety management and safety culture.”
With the source of the leak still unknown, the Department of Energy’s investigation focused on the response to the emergency and to the safety and maintenance programs in place. Shortcomings were found at almost every step, from a more than 10-hour response to the initial emergency alarm to a bypass in the filtration system that allowed the radiation to escape above ground.
“The bottom line is they failed to believe initial indications of the release,” Wyka said.

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