Officials from the Department of Energy confirmed that thirteen workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) have confirmed positive for radiation exposure after the leak on February 14th from the first deep underground nuclear waste storage site in the United States. The WIPP facility is the only repository in the United States which can store materials and tools contaminated with plutonium.
All employees at the facility when the leak occurred were tested for external contamination before they were allowed to leave the area. At the same time biological samples were also taken to determine any possible exposures from the inhalation of radioactive particles.
None of the employees showed signs of external contamination, but the biological samples came back and showed that 13 workers were exposed to radiation. The exposed workers were performing above ground operations at the time of exposure.
The leak has lead to the detection of elevated radiation levels around the facility.
Officials say that their analysis of air samples in and around the facility have led them to believe that a container of waste leaked, but it will still take a few weeks before they can access the area to make a final determination.
Farok Sharif, the president of the Nuclear Waste Partnership – the contractor which operates the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, spoke on Monday at a community meeting in Carlsbad and said that a ceiling collapse or a forklift puncturing a nuclear waste container are two potential scenarios which could have caused the radiation release.
Nine days before the leak, on March 5th, a truck hauling salt in the plant’s mines caught fire, but officials say they are assured the events are unrelated.
Source: Department of Energy
Source: USA Today