Ask for an Independent Investigation of WIPP

Runs 4/11/14 through 4/18/14

(THEME UP AND UNDER)  This is the CCNS News Update, an overview of the latest nuclear safety issues, brought to you every week by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.  Here is this week’s top headline:

*  Ask for an Independent Investigation of WIPP

While we await the accident investigation report for the February 14th radiation release from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) that contaminated at least 21 workers, some things can be learned from the report for the February 5th vehicle fire in the underground.   That report describes inadequate equipment maintenance that was a cause of the fire; inadequate worker training to respond to the emergency; and the WIPP culture that prevents workers from bringing issues and concerns to the attention of management. – accident investigation report at the bottom of the page.

The accident report describes how 86 workers were in the mine at the time of the fire.  The operator of the salt hauling vehicle tried to extinguish the fire by using a portable fire extinguisher located on the truck and the truck’s fire suppression system, but could not do so.  The report found, “There were inconsistencies between procedures and training for fire response that led to an ineffective response to the salt haul truck fire.”

The Central Monitoring Room was notified about the fire, but the operator did not act appropriately.  The evacuation alarm was sounded for only two seconds; the announcement to evacuate could not be understood; and the emergency evacuation strobe lights were not activated.  The ventilation system was switched from normal to filtration mode to reduce the airflow to contain the fire, but the change resulted in smoke flowing into areas where the workers had expected “good” air.  More difficulties ensued in efforts to reach the waste hoist elevator along established evacuation routes due to poor visibility.

Three trips were required to evacuate the workers from the underground 2,150 feet below the surface.  During the 37 minutes for the evacuation, some workers struggled with or did not use the self-contained breathing apparatus, and 13 had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, “I can’t imagine how afraid and confused the workers must have been.  They had been told that this type of accident would never happen.  But they knew the required training and equipment maintenance was not done; the culture deterred workers from raising issues with their supervisors; and the ventilation system was switched the wrong way.  I would have wondered what else could go wrong and whether I would get out of the mine alive.

“The WIPP culture must be fixed.  We can’t trust this system for nuclear waste disposal to keep the workers safe and those living in the area and along the transportation routes.  An independent investigation of the radiation release is required now.  Please contact your elected officials, including the Governor, congresspersons and senators, and urge them to support an independent investigation of the WIPP radiation release.  Thank you.”

This has been the CCNS News Update.  Please go to our website at for the independent investigation action alert.



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