WIPP: NM Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn calls for immediate closure of waste panels
CARLSBAD >> Eighty-four days have passed since the February radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and community leaders in Carlsbad and New Mexico government officials have begun to reveal their irritations.
New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn capped the weekly WIPP town hall with a fiery speech about the Department of Energy's latest theory of what caused the Feb. 14 accident in Panel 7 of the underground nuclear waste facility located 26 miles east of Carlsbad. Flynn called for the immediate closure of all waste panels except Panel 7 at WIPP, as well as complete public transparency.
"I agree that these panels need to be closed and they need to be closed immediately," Flynn said.
Seven panels have been mined underground at WIPP for nuclear waste storage and three of them remain opened, including Panel 7 where the DOE believes the radiation leak originated. According to the contractual obligations, DOE must now close all open panels where the radiation leak is not suspected to have occurred.
The DOE halted shipments of nuclear waste containers from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Control Specialists private facility in Andrews County, Texas last week after investigators narrowed the likely cause to the waste makeup from LANL.
Nuclear Waste Partnership Recovery Manager Jim Blankenhorn announced on Thursday that WIPP officials believe the radiation leak was likely caused by nuclear waste that contained nitrate salt which gave off some sort of a chemical reaction.
The waste with nitrate salt matched waste stored in drums that originated from three separate waste streams: two of the waste streams originated from LANL and the source of the other was unknown because DOE and NWP refused to name the source. WIPP has stored waste streams from LANL, Savannah River, and Idaho National Laboratory in the past.
"I'd rather not say the other one at this point and cause a lot of flurry," Blankenhorn said. "Its not that it's a big secret, but from a management perspective, I don't want to cause a lot of angst."
Flynn grilled DOE and NWP for not disclosing the other waste stream and continuing to not be forthright with the public.
"Mr. Blankenhorn identifies the waste stream, but then refuses to answer the question If you have information, then you need to disclose information with the public immediately," Flynn said.
Flynn also cautioned the public and government agencies to be more careful in its dissemination of information because of the dangers of spreading false rumors. He called a rumor that the state Environment Department was working to loosen the restrictions on WIPP "a lie."
"Our only mission is to protect the environment," Flynn said. "We did withdraw the draft permit to address several panels but that was in no way an attempt to weaken safety performance."
Reporter Zack Ponce can be reached at (575) 689-7402.
An earlier version of the story used the wrong terminology for the waste streams.......
Chemical reaction in drum at Carlsbad WIPP facility may have caused radiation leak; nuclear waste shipments to Texas stopped
Workers are shown inside the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., earlier this month for the first time since the Feb. 14 radiological release. (Photo provided by U.S. Department of Energy)
Editor’s note: Carlsbad is only a 2-plus-hour drive from Alpine. We intend to keep an eye on this since it’s happening practically in our front yard.
By Jonathan SmithCarlsbad Current-Argus
CARLSBAD, N.M. — Waste Isolation Pilot Plant officials are investigating a possibility that some sort of chemical reaction may have occurred in a container drum that could have led to the February radiation leak at the plant, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad.
As a result, shipments of nuclear waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to a West Texas storage site have stopped.
Ben Williams, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy, said shipments from Los Alamos to Waste Control Specialists, a nuclear storage site in Andrews, Texas, have temporarily halted.
Investigators plan to evaluate the contents of a set of containers buried in Panel 7, the plant’s newest storage room.
WIPP officials say pictures and video taken in that room during a recent trip underground revealed damage to 2-ton bags of magnesium oxide placed atop the nuclear waste containers.
The bags, which are not hazardous, are used to weigh down containers and absorb moisture and carbon dioxide in the mines, Reynolds said. Each bag weighs between 3,000 to 4,200 pounds, according to a report. The bags don’t contain nuclear materials.
“From what we have seen, some of these bags have been disturbed,’ said Tammy Reynolds, deputy recovery manager at the Nuclear Waste Partnership.
Reynolds said inspectors plan to return to Panel 7 with a camera that will reach over the bags to see what could have caused the damage.
Dana Bryson, deputy manager for the Energy Department’s Carlsbad field office, and DOE spokesman Williams said officials are still evaluating the damage. The cause is still unknown.
The room — Panel 7 — is the area where officials believe the radiation leak originated.
The radiation leak on Feb. 14 stopped operations at the country’s only underground nuclear waste disposal site. WIPP is the designated storage site for waste from the Los Alamos clean-up. All shipments were to be stored at WIPP by June 30.
Because of the shutdown, the waste was diverted temporarily to the private facility in West Texas.
Williams said the deadline still stands, but could not comment on whether this recent information could hinder the timeline.
“It’s still under investigation,” he said.
WIPP officials say there appear to be no issues with the roof or walls in the room.
Reynolds said officials are not ruling out anything, but evidence so far shows no signs of damage to the room’s structure.
“There's no abnormal activity in this room (Panel 7) whatsoever,” Reynolds said.- See more at: http://alpinedailyplanet.typepad.com/alpine-daily-planet/2014/05/chemical-reaction-in-drum-at-carlsbad-wipp-facility-may-have-caused-radiation-leak-nuclear-waste-shi.html#sthash.1ucAoPr8.dpuf
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