Four more workers test positive for
radiation from New Mexico site
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[March 11, 2014]
By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) — Four more workers have tested
positive for exposure tied to an accidental release of radiation from an
underground nuclear waste site in New Mexico, but tests have shown no
further contamination in two sections of the site, officials said on
This brings to 17 the number of workers exposed to radiation at
the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, but a U.S. Department of Energy
spokesman in a statement characterized the level of exposure as
No workers were underground at the site in southeastern New Mexico
when on February 14 air sensors half a mile below surface in an
ancient salt formation triggered an alarm, indicating excessive
amounts of radioactive particles.
Thirteen workers working above ground when the accident happened
were initially revealed last month to have tested positive for
Another four workers who were at the site the day after the accident
have tested positive for trace amounts of radiation, U.S. Department
of Energy spokesman Bradley Bugger said in statement. None of the 17
employees is expected to experience any health effects, he said.
No workers were below ground when air sensors detected high levels
of radiation and automatically switched to a filtration system
designed to capture the vast majority of radioactive particles,
which can harm humans if inhaled or ingested.
Probes sent over the weekend into a pair of shafts in the salt
formation where nuclear waste is stored at the facility showed no
detectable airborne radioactivity and instruments used in the test
were not contaminated, officials said.
Since the February 14 accident, this was the first testing of air
below ground at the facility near Carlsbad which accepts equipment
and clothing contaminated with radioisotopes like plutonium from
U.S. nuclear labs and weapons sites.
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Crews in recent days have used high-density foam to seal vents that
released underground air to the surface, Bugger said. Monitoring
shows no further radiation leakage from those vents, but officials
are crafting methods to ensure against leakages in future caused by
degradation of the foam over time, he said.
The Department of Energy and the contractor that runs the site,
Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC, will conduct additional tests of air
below ground before sending in investigators to determine the cause
of the accident.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho
editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Eric Walsh)
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