Watchdog asks for WIPP inquiry

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By The Staff

 A watchdog group is calling for an independent investigation in the fire and radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
“We do know that the radiation release was never supposed to happen, and the federal government is unprepared to safely address the situation. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency, charged with determining whether WIPP would leak in 10,000 years, said it would not,” said Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens of Nuclear Safety.
“We understand that plans needed to be prepared in order to ensure the safety of the workers re-entering the mine, and we applaud the Department of Energy (DOE) for being thorough. On the other hand, for more than 15 years, CCNS has pressed DOE and the New Mexico Environment Department to enhance the emergency preparedness requirements in the hazardous waste permit in anticipation that such an event could happen. We were ridiculed by the agencies. And now we see that our concerns were more than justified.”
Arends said an Accident Investigation Board was formed to investigate the vehicle fire, which was composed of DOE employees and consultants.
“Their report is out and now they have been charged with investigating the radiation release. But they are not doctors and epidemiologists who are qualified to assess the exposures received by at least 21 workers. Those people, and the DOE, do not have all the expertise needed to create a plan to decontaminate a salt mine from the first-of-its-kind accident. There will be no easy, fast solution as to what will happen at WIPP. We do know that an independent investigation is needed now.”
According to a release from WIPP, workers made another entry into the WIPP underground facility Friday and successfully established a second base farther into the mine after workers surveyed the area and found no radiological contamination, confirming that the system’s airflow process is performing as designed.
The press release said the second base is critical for the third phase of the re-entry process at WIPP. It provides a clean area where employees can safely remove any contaminated clothing and equipment before returning to the surface. While underground, workers also set up another two Continuous Air Monitors.
The third phase entry to identify the contamination source is expected next week.
DOE also reports it has begun taking salt samples from the WIPP underground facility and is sending them to the Idaho National Laboratory to begin testing various decontamination techniques.
DOE also is reporting that crews are creating a mockup of WIPP’s High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter banks so that employees can plan and practice the removal process as Nuclear Waste Partnership finalizes procedures for replacing them.