Monitors to Enter U.S. Nuclear-Waste Site Following Leak

Workers conduct mining operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico in 2007. Site administrators are preparing to conduct operations aimed at determining conditions in the underground facility following a recent leak.
Workers conduct mining operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico in 2007. Site administrators are preparing to conduct operations aimed at determining conditions in the underground facility following a recent leak. (U.S. Energy Department photo)

Washington is preparing to analyze conditions inside an underground nuclear-waste site vacated following a leak last month, the Associated Press reports.

A team of specialists is preparing to descend next week into the subterranean portion of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, AP reported on Wednesday. Workers were barred from the underground storage site in New Mexico following the detection of escaped contaminants in February.

Administrators separately plan to send additional gear into the waste area to provide more readings on the possible presence of airborne radioactive particles, according to Jose Franco, who heads the Energy Department's branch site in the nearby town of Carlsbad, N.M.

Meanwhile, government personnel on Wednesday said 13 site personnel probably would face no medical complications from any exposure to heightened radiation. Contrary to initial findings announced last week, new assessments of biological materials from the workers showed no indication of the radioactive elements plutonium and americium.

Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to review the more recent assessment, AP quoted government insiders as saying.

The head of the waste facility's managing contractor added that "biological testing continues on other workers who were at the site following the initial exposure event."

"There is always the possibility of positive exposure results from that testing," said Farok Sharif, president of the Nuclear Waste Partnership. "The ability to detect extremely small amounts of radioactive material also means there may be false positives that occur through the testing process."

Energy Department personnel said continuous measurements have turned up no evidence of any further increase in radioactive particles outside the facility.

In written comments to lawmakers from New Mexico, Environmental Protection Agency regional chief Ron Curry said the early analyses indicate that no related medical complications are likely to arise in nearby populations.

March 6, 2014
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Washington is preparing to analyze conditions inside an underground nuclear-waste site vacated following a leak last month, the Associated Press reports.

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