New Air Tests Show No Contaminants at U.S. Nuclear-Waste Site

Los Alamos National Laboratory personnel repackage waste in 2011 for transfer to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Preliminary tests found no escaped radioactive particles in an underground portion of the storage facility, administrators said on Sunday.
Los Alamos National Laboratory personnel repackage waste in 2011 for transfer to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Preliminary tests found no escaped radioactive particles in an underground portion of the storage facility, administrators said on Sunday. (U.S. Energy Department photo)

New checks turned up no escaped radioactive particles in a U.S. waste-burial site placed off limits because of a leak last month, the Associated Press reports.

Still, site administrators left open the possibility that escaped radioactive materials were lingering elsewhere in the underground storage area of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Workers used air- and salt-transfer tunnels to place radiation scanners in portions of the New Mexico facility on Friday and Saturday, and the detection gear was "not in the airflow path coming from the area where the radiation release originated," according to a joint press release by the Energy Department and the Nuclear Waste Partnership, the storage site's managing contractor.

Overseers barred personnel from entering the subterranean complex following the detection of escaped contaminants inside the facility in February. Trace amounts of radioactive particles also turned up above the surface at the site, located roughly two dozen miles from the town of Carlsbad.

A team of specialists could descend into the storage area later this week to ensure its corridors are not in danger of collapsing, and to attempt to track down the origin of the radiation leak, the officials said. Upon locating the point where contaminants were escaping, the personnel would seal it off and execute a strategy to transfer it out, according to the Sunday statement.

Separately, administrators said they had found evidence of radiation exposure in four additional personnel, raising the total number of affected workers to 17.

"The levels of exposure are extremely low, and none of the employees is expected to experience any health effects from the exposures," the statement says.

March 10, 2014
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New checks turned up no escaped radioactive particles in a U.S. waste-burial site placed off limits because of a leak last month, the Associated Press reports.

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