WIPP truck swerves off highway

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By The Staff

LAS VEGAS, N.M. – A truck carrying defense radioactive waste on route to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad veered off the road near Las Vegas last week.The southbound truck carrying three loaded containers went off Interstate 25 near the Airport Road exit around 5 p.m. The truck was coming from Idaho.The truck stayed upright and there was no damage. State police said no hazardous materials were released and that the driver claimed he had become ill and passed out. A radiation survey was conducted and nothing was detected, officials said.Even if the truck had overturned, it would have been doubtful that any leakages would occur. The heavy drums were certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and they must be able to survive intact a fall of 30 feet onto a steel-reinforced concrete pad and burn in jet fuel for 30 minutes, officials said.State police officers responded to the incident.State police Lt. Rick Anglada said Monday that the driver was identified as Fred King, 50, of Carlsbad. He was cited in Miguel County Magistrate Court for driving while fatigued.Anglada said the driver went off the road and through a right-of-way fence. He got stuck in the sand.The driver, whose name wasn’t available, was taken to Alta Vista Regional Hospital for observation, Anglada said.The other driver couldn’t drive anymore because he had reached his limit under federal rules, so two other drivers were brought in to take the truck to the WIPP site near Carlsbad, Anglada said.Casey Gadbury, a WIPP official in Carlsbad, said the truck arrived at WIPP around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. He said only a handful of such incidents have occurred in the 7.5 million miles of travel of loaded shipments since the program’s beginning in 1999.Mayor Tony Marquez said Wednesday that he received a full briefing on the incident and wants the fire and police chiefs to brief the City Council on what happened. He said he also wants to update the city’s emergency response plan, which was last reviewed by the council in 1997.Dennis Hurtt, manager, Office of Public Affairs, said Monday that the incident involved the same kind of truck, material and shipping containers as those that transport radioactive waste to WIPP from Los Alamos National Laboratory.“These incidents are few and far between,” he said. “This one was a bit of an aberrant situation.Transuranic waste shipments from LANL to WIPP vary in frequency but are averaging about two each week, Hurtt said.

Editor’s note: David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic, the Monitor’s sister newspaper.