Higher Explosion Threat Seen From Texas Nuclear-Waste Drums

Transuranic nuclear-waste containers await shipment in 2005 to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Chemicals tied to a burst nuclear-waste drum suggest five barrels in Texas face an elevated risk of exploding.
Transuranic nuclear-waste containers await shipment in 2005 to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Chemicals tied to a burst nuclear-waste drum suggest five barrels in Texas face an elevated risk of exploding. (Jeff Green/Getty Images)

Chemicals tied to a burst nuclear-waste drum suggest five barrels in Texas face an elevated risk of exploding, the Associated Press reports.

The drums held in Andrews, Texas, are known to contain acid levels matching those found in escaped contaminants at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, according to Tuesday remarks from Ryan Flynn, the state's top environment official. Radioactive materials spread through the facility's underground corridors in February, spreading contamination to nearly two dozen workers and bringing normal site operations to a halt.

"Every member of the community should be concerned. ... But I don't think they should be worried," Flynn told state legislators. "We required [the U.S. Energy Department] to plan for that and they have a system in place to protect the public."

Authorities previously suggested that over 100 waste containers at the Texas facility are in danger of bursting. The site's private operator has said the drums have been moved into additional packaging and placed under around-the-clock surveillance.

The Texas site has also interred the barrels in an effort to lower the risk that they could burst from any heat generated by their contents, New Mexico Environment Department spokesman Jim Winchester said in a Tuesday article by the Albuquerque Journal. Officials have said a cat-litter mixture in the barrels could generate potentially dangerous thermal reactions.

Flynn, though, said it could take months to confirm the cause of the February leak, according to the AP report. He added it remains uncertain when the New Mexico waste site might reopen, or when workers might close off chambers containing barrels in possible danger of breaking open.

In Washington, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday signed off on $120 million in supplementary funds for recovery operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the Journal reported.

June 11, 2014
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Chemicals tied to a burst nuclear-waste drum suggest five barrels in Texas face an elevated risk of exploding, the Associated Press reports.

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