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Hundreds of Nuclear-Waste Drums May Face Danger of Bursting

A truck transports transuranic nuclear waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico in 2011. The state on Tuesday ordered actions at the underground storage facility to permanently seal off containers potentially at risk of rupturing. A truck transports transuranic nuclear waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico in 2011. The state on Tuesday ordered actions at the underground storage facility to permanently seal off containers potentially at risk of rupturing. (U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory photo)

New Mexico is urgently pushing to plug subterranean halls with over 300 nuclear-waste drums potentially at risk of bursting, the Associated Press reports.

The Energy Department and a contract firm face a May 30 deadline to explain how they will irreversibly close two chambers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant containing the 368 barrels, according to a Tuesday order from New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn. One of the two storage halls was filled to capacity and awaiting final closure in February, when radioactive contaminants spread through the facility's underground corridors and forced normal operations at the site to cease.

The targeted barrels -- as well as dozens more held above ground -- include an absorbent cat-litter tied to a rupture in one container inside the facility near Carlsbad.

Environment personnel said over 100 similarly packed barrels are at a holding location in Andrews, Texas, and 57 more of the problematic waste containers are in storage at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The Texas facility's private operator on Tuesday said the containers in its custody were under continuous video surveillance, AP reported separately.

"If there is anything that is off normal we would be know about it immediately," said Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for the firm Waste Control Specialists.

Meanwhile, one New Mexico lawmaker said officials in his state lack the authority to call for portions of the underground complex to be shuttered, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

"[Flynn] did not call our office or let us know in any way" about the imminent demand, Representative Steve Pearce (R) said. "I don't think we're at the point to say we should shut it down. I don't think the state has the expertise (to be making the decision)."

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