New Mexico Nuclear Waste Site Halts
Shipments Of Toxic Materials To Texas
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[May 10, 2014]
By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A New Mexico nuclear waste
dump, which saw a radiation leak in February, has halted shipments of
toxic waste barrels to a commercial Texas facility amid concerns that
chemical reactions could trigger another release there, officials said
A probe found the February 14 accident may have been linked to
improperly prepared and packaged drums of toxic waste accepted from
the Los Alamos National Laboratory by the Waste Isolation Pilot
Plant (WIPP), its managers said in a statement.
Investigators are still evaluating whether a chemical reaction
caused the leak of unsafe concentrations of radiation in the
underground salt caverns where waste is stored, which exposed 21
workers above ground to low levels of contamination.
"As they evaluate this possibility, it is prudent to temporarily
stop shipments of this specific (Los Alamos lab) waste stream" to a
commercial storage facility in Texas, managers said.
The WIPP complex in the Chihuahuan Desert in southeastern New Mexico
was designed to permanently seal in salt chambers clothing, tools
and other materials contaminated with radioisotopes like plutonium
from U.S. nuclear labs and weapons sites.
There may have been chemical reactions between nitrate salts in
radiological materials and organic materials such as plastic packing
in barrels of waste from the Los Alamos lab, Jim Blankenhorn, deputy
manager with the contractor running WIPP, told a public meeting on
Fifty-five of the suspect barrels were stored in the salt chamber
where the accident happened and additional drums from the same waste
stream are in a separate disposal area below ground, Blankenhorn
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Los Alamos chemists are seeking to develop a process for filtering
out the nitrate salts before packing and shipping containers of
waste, he said.
The repository is not expected to resume operations for at least 18
months but it may take as long as three years to be fully
operational, Blankenhorn said.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Eric M.
Johnson and Clarence Fernandez)
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