New Mexico officials asked federal officials to remove 3,706 cubic
meters of waste from a mesa on the Los Alamos complex, out of a
concern that wildfires could reach the material.
Much of that nuclear waste has been removed, and the U.S. Department
of Energy had agreed to transfer the rest of it to a Texas facility
by June 30.
But those shipments have been put on hold due to concerns about the
chemical stability of the mixture in the containers that have arisen
since it was discovered a drum from the federal Los Alamos National
Laboratory may be behind a radiological leak at a repository near
Carlsbad, New Mexico.
“As we work to assess the conditions of the transuranic waste
program at the (Los Alamos) lab, we have decided to halt further
shipments until we can reassure the public that it is safe to do
so,” David Klaus, an Energy Department secretary for management and
performance, said in a statement.
New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn said in a
statement he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the decision.
The backup of nuclear waste at Los Alamos has been worsened by the
shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, the only
facility of its kind in the United States, where material from Los
Alamos had been sent.
A drum from Los Alamos is suspected in a radiation leak on Feb. 14
at the underground repository for so-called transuranic waste, which
consists of tools, rags and other debris contaminated with
radioisotopes such as plutonium from U.S. nuclear labs.
[to top of second column]
Government investigators believe a chemical reaction between organic
kitty litter used as a new absorbent and nitrate salts in the
radiological waste likely caused the drum to breach and eject
materials onto a container nearby.
Also on Friday, officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant said an
ongoing investigation and cleanup tied to the Feb. 14 radiation
release and an accident the week before that saw a truck catch fire
would prevent the facility from setting firm deadlines for sealing
off two vaults that collectively hold 368 drums of nuclear refuse
from Los Alamos.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Alex
Dobuzinskis and Jeremy Laurence)
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