Radiation-Leak Investigators Shift Sights to Los Alamos Lab

Workers examine artillery shells excavated from a waste disposal site at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The laboratory has become the focus of a federal investigation into a leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
Workers examine artillery shells excavated from a waste disposal site at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The laboratory has become the focus of a federal investigation into a leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. (U.S. Energy Department photo)

Los Alamos National Laboratory is now at the center of a federal inquiry into a leak at a New Mexico nuclear-waste facility, the Associated Press reports.

Energy Department accident investigators have been working at Los Alamos for roughly three weeks in connection with the February radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a state environment official said in comments quoted by AP on Thursday. A container from the nuclear-weapons laboratory ruptured in the underground repository in February, spreading contaminants to 22 workers and forcing personnel out of much of the site.

The Energy Department probe was one of nine looking into the radiation release, said Jeff Kendall, general counsel for the New Mexico Environment Department.

He said the waste facility near Carlsbad and the Los Alamos laboratory each face a high likelihood of receiving penalties tied to the incident as new details become available. Los Alamos may have sent more than 350 rupture-prone waste drums to the waste complex, and over 100 additional problematic containers to a commercial storage site in Andrews, Texas.

Kendall added that the Energy Department would inform New Mexico next month of "how the recovery plan is working," as well as "deadlines, dates and timelines" for scrubbing the site of errant radioactive particles and resuming operations there.

It remains unclear when the waste facility may reopen. One Justice Department official, though, downplayed the possibility of the site remaining permanently closed.

"I don't foresee that. Nobody is contemplating a closure of WIPP," said Eileen McDonough, a federal attorney representing the Energy Department.

June 27, 2014
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Los Alamos National Laboratory is now at the center of a federal inquiry into a leak at a New Mexico nuclear-waste facility, the Associated Press reports.

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