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Equipment Delivery Delays Venture Into New Mexico Atomic Site

A delayed delivery of radiation-monitoring equipment scuttled a team's planned Tuesday entry of a vacated nuclear waste site, the Associated Press reports.

The still-pending arrival of wearable radioactivity monitors prompted the Energy Department to delay sending a team into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's subterranean corridors, spokesman Ben Williams said.

The group's planned descent would mark the first venture by personnel into the New Mexico atomic-waste burial site since detectors there picked up the presence of airborne radioactive particles in February. The incident exposed no fewer than 21 employees to radiation and resulted in contaminants escaping to the outside environment in trace amounts.

Authorities have yet to determine the severity of radioactivity in the facility's waste storage area, which is located more than 2,600 feet below the earth's surface. The source of the original contamination leak also remains unclear.

Meanwhile, Los Alamos National Laboratory on Wednesday said it has started sending nuclear waste to a private site in Texas for temporary storage. Prior to February's radiation leak, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was receiving material that the New Mexico laboratory had pledged to send away by the middle of this year.

"Our commitment to the state of New Mexico is to remove the waste stored above ground so it would not pose a risk in the event of another wildfire in Los Alamos," says an e-mailed statement by Pete Maggiore, an official with the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration. 

Maggiore said the storage site in Andrews, Texas, "is the best option available to ensure the lab meets its commitment without delay.”

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