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Radiation Level Rises at New Mexico Nuclear-Waste Site

The U.S. Energy Department reported finding "slightly elevated" radioactivity in the air at a New Mexico nuclear-waste site, days after it detected a leak.

Traces collected in and near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant indicate that radioactive-contaminant levels "remain well below a level of public or environmental hazard," according to a DOE press statement released on Monday.

Officials barred workers from entering underground sections of the waste-burial site after detecting the initial leak and an underground fire earlier this month. However, the department has downplayed any danger from possible radiation exposure in the area, which it said would amount to less than one-tenth of the quantity a person would receive from a chest X-ray.

Possible radiation-exposure levels around the site stood below one millirem. U.S. residents typically receive 620 millirem each year from nature and other sources, the statement adds.

The department added that personnel would continue to assess radioactivity levels at the site near Carlsbad, N.M.

Experts from Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories are expected to assist with that Energy Department effort, New Mexico senators Tom Udall (D) and Martin Heinrich (D) noted in remarks provided to the Roswell Daily Record.

New Mexico state authorities backed federal assertions that the increased radioactivity so far appears to pose no public hazard, the newspaper reported.

"The New Mexico Environment Department and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center continue to monitor radiation levels and will notify the public of any health threats," said Jim Winchester, a spokesman for the state office.

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