Waste Headed for WIPP Ignites by John Fleck
Albuquerque Journal - August 14, 2003

A drum of radioactive waste destined for New Mexico caught fire in an Idaho laboratory Wednesday morning because of an unknown chemical inside, officials said.

The Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Facility at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory was evacuated for several hours after the drum caught fire, said lab spokewoman Ann Riedesel.

No radiation escaped and no workers were injured, she said.

Workers were preparing the drum for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico when the fire happened, Riedesel said.

The drum contains radioactive sludge from the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado. In the 1070s, drums freom Rocky Flats were sent to Idaho for long-term storage until a permanent waste dump could be built. Workers preparing the drum for shipment notives that it was bulging, indication some sort of gas buildup inside, according to Riedesel.

In the past, the problem has been solved by simply venting the drum, allowing the gas to escape, according to Riedesel.

We've vented dozens already without incident.

In this case, however, flames leapt from the drum as sson as it was vented. Riedesel said lab workers have not identified what the gas was that caused the fire.

The incident happened as the Energy Department and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, push for a relaxation of rules requiring testing to make sure there are no dangerous gases inside waste drums headed for WIPP.

Domenici argues that the tests are not needed because no such gases have been found in tests conducted on more than 40,000 such drums since WIPP opened in 1999.

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