DNFSB Still Concerned about Flaws in Emergency Air Monitoring at WIPP

Just as there were problems encountered with air monitoring during the February 14, 2014 explosion and release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a nuclear bomb waste dump, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board continues to raise questions about that issue.

In a May 15th, 2024 report, the independent Board discussed the inadequacies of the final design of the continuous air monitor, or CAM, system located in the WIPP underground mine located in a salt formation 2,150 feet below the surface.  https://www.dnfsb.gov/sites/default/files/document/30566/WIPP%20SSCVS%20Cam%20Design.pdf The CAM’s safety function is to detect a radiological release in an environment possibly filled with airborne combustion products from fire and salt particles from mining activities.

In a perfect world, the CAM system would detect the release and convey that information to the Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System (SSCVS).  The ventilation’s dampers would be closed so that the air would be diverted into the high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters within 60 seconds of when the CAM system detected the release – ultimately avoiding a radiation and toxic materials release to the environment.

But that is not what happened during the February 14, 2014 explosion and release.  The HEPA filtration system kicked in.  Nevertheless, plutonium and americium, main components of the waste disposed of at WIPP, was found in an air monitoring station more than a half mile northwest of the WIPP exhaust shaft where filtered air is released.  This means that the radioactivity traveled more than a mile and a half from the site of the underground explosion.

In 2019, the Board expressed its safety concerns that included the need for a complete final design of the CAM system.  In its recent review of the final design, the Board found that the WIPP contractor, the Salado Isolation Mining Contractors, LLC, or SIMCO, “has not demonstrated that the CAM system will perform its safety function in this environment.”  https://www.dnfsb.gov/sites/default/files/document/30566/WIPP%20SSCVS%20Cam%20Design.pdf    

In order to protect public health and the environment, the CAM system and the nearly $500 million ventilation system are supposed to work together seamlessly.  However, the Board says in the current state, the systems will not work together and more needs to be done before the ventilation system comes on line to ensure operations are in sync.

The ventilation system is undergoing testing right now to bring it into service. The Board has identified multiple quality assurance program issues found in facility walkdowns.  Now is the time for WIPP to fully address the Board’s concerns.

Did You Know? about A Special Announcement from the New Mexico PeaceFest: 


This Friday, May 24th, there will be an anti-nuke demonstration and march in Santa Fe. A group of Veterans for Peace and others have been holding an anti-nuke vigil every Friday at noon on the corners of Sandoval and W Alameda. This Friday they will be joined by a larger group of demonstrators, including the Raging Grannies, followed by a march. Everyone is invited to participate and to bring friends. And signs. This being Memorial Day weekend, there will be plenty of people in town – a good opportunity to make a visible statement in the streets of Santa Fe.


We will gather on the four corners of Sandoval St. and W Alameda at 12 noon. The Raging Grannies will lead a half hour sing-along of anti-nuke songs from noon until 12:30 (perhaps on just one of the corners, or perhaps moving from corner to corner to give everyone a chance to sing along).


At 12:30pm the march will begin, carrying signs and banners. We will walk north on Sandoval, then east on W San Francisco past the Plaza, then south on Shelby and Old Santa Fe Tr to the state Capitol building. Then we’ll return to our starting point by way of S Capitol St, E DeVargas, Don Gaspar, and Alameda. While walking we will sing Peace Salaam Shalom (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V00_Wg_7Yxs).  If you happen to park along the route, you can peel off before the end.


The march will be a slow, calm procession, sticking together. The point is not to get somewhere; the point is to be seen in the streets. The slowest walkers will be asked to lead, and everyone else will be asked to follow, to ensure that fast walkers don’t sprint ahead and split up the procession.  The route is a total of 1.2 miles round trip. It would take an average walker a half hour, but this march will probably take 45 minutes, maybe even a bit longer. It will be finished about 1:15 or 1:30 at the latest. If you happen to park along the route of the march, you can peel off before the end.


Anyone who doesn’t feel up to walking 1.2 miles may choose to skip the march. Some of the VFP folks will choose to remain standing on the corner until 1pm, as they usually do every Friday, so if you’re not marching you may wish to stand in solidarity with them.


Let’s show Santa Fe and the tourists that there is major opposition to the endless production of weapons of mass destruction.  SEE YOU FRIDAY!


  1. Wednesday, May 29th at 6 pm MT – A Conversation with Annie Jacobsen, Author of NYT Bestseller, Nuclear War: A Scenario.  Hosted by Back from the Brink:  Bringing Communities Together to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.  CCNS is a co-sponsor.  Register:   https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_VSNspz8jSsGBiA6f0gRu_w#/registration



  1. Monday, May 20th PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD EXTENDED TO THURSDAY, JUNE 20th, 2024to EPA about its proposed rule allowing open burning / open detonation of hazardous wastes.  Use Earthjustice’s Action Alert to Ban the Practice of Open Burning and Open Detonation of Hazardous Wastes at:  https://earthjustice.org/action/ban-the-practice-of-open-burning-and-open-detonation-of-hazardous-wastes

 See the May 2nd Update for more information: http://nuclearactive.org/public-comments-needed-to-ban-open-burning-and-open-detonation-of-pfas-toxic-and-carcinogenic-explosive-materials/



  1. Monday, July 1st – Friday, July 5th (no hearing on Th. July 4th) NM Water Quality Control Commission public hearing about reuse of fracking waste continues. https://www.defendnmwater.org/post/hearing-extended-into-july-so-far-fracking-waste-reuse-looks-as-risky-as-we-thought



  1. June 17th to 24th MOVED TO SEPTEMBER 16th to 22nd Global Week of Action – No Money for Nuclear Weapons, by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Join the efforts to push back against the unacceptable squandering of vast sums of money on weapons of mass destruction ($82.9 billion in 2022).  https://www.icanw.org/global_week_of_action_on_nuclear_spending

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