Workers this week may push closer to the origin of contaminants that escaped in a New Mexico nuclear dump, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reports.
The Energy Department wants specially equipped personnel in coming days to complete their third descent into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's underground storage section. Last week, teams completed their first two entries into the site's subterranean area since a radioactive material release prompted administrators to place it off-limits in February.
The crews moved closer on Friday to where plutonium and americium particles escaped into the air, and set up an outpost intended to help them isolate the breach.
The workers reportedly did not detect radioactivity at the location of the new control center. According to a spokesman for the waste site's managing contractor, the absence of contamination around the outpost was intentional.
"We want it to be as close as possible [to the contaminated room] but in a clean area so we can have entrants remove contaminated equipment and clothing so they don't take that contamination back to the surface," Nuclear Waste Partnership spokesman Donavan Mager said.
Joe Franco, who heads the Energy Department's branch site in the nearby town of Carlsbad, N.M., said a forthcoming assessment of the radiation incident "will include several areas needing improvement."
"We are actively implementing procedures and training that bolsters our emergency management practices and aids the protection of our workers and the public from any potential events in the future," the official stated.
A local watchdog group, though, has called for an outside audit of the contamination incident and an earlier fire at the site, the Los Alamos Monitor reported.
"The radiation release was never supposed to happen, and the federal government is unprepared to safely address the situation," said Joni Arends, head of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety in Santa Fe.