Fears that nuclear-waste barrels could burst open will delay their transfer out of a New Mexico region prone to wildfires, Reuters reports.
The Energy Department on Friday said it would not meet a June 30 goal for moving the containers out of storage at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The waste came under threat three years ago from fires near the nuclear-weapons laboratory, and New Mexico's state government ordered the site to finish transferring the material to other locations before this year's wildfire season reaches its peak.
Federal officials blamed the shipping delay on new worries that some of the waste drums may be at risk of breaking open. Concerns emerged about the stability of a packing mixture in certain containers following a rupture in a waste drum held underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
"As we work to assess the conditions of the transuranic waste program at the [Los Alamos] lab, we have decided to halt further shipments until we can reassure the public that it is safe to do so," says a released comment from David Klaus, deputy undersecretary for management and performance.
The New Mexico Environment Department said it was "disappointed but not surprised" by the announcement, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Roughly 387 cubic feet of atomic detritus remain in storage at Los Alamos, according to the newspaper.
Hundreds more of the suspect containers are being held at a surface-level commercial facility in Texas and in a subterranean area of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
The Energy Department on Friday said it may need 24 months or longer to permanently shutter corridors holding problem waste barrels at the underground complex, the Associated Press reported.