Plutonium Leaks from WIPP While Plans to Expand the Site’s Capacity Proposed


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Runs 2/21/14 through 2/28/14

(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:

·   Plutonium Leaks from WIPP While Plans to Expand the Site’s Capacity Proposed 

Shortly after the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced on Friday, February 14th that a draft hazardous waste permit was available for 60 days of public review and comment, a release of radiation was detected in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) underground.  The detection triggered the HEPA filtration system which is designed to capture much of the contamination before the air is released into the environment.  On Wednesday, February 19th, the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center announced that plutonium and americium were found in an air monitoring station more than a half mile northwest of the WIPP exhaust shaft where filtered air is released.  Those radionuclides traveled more than a mile and a half from the presumed location of the underground release.

A press conference was held in Carlsbad on Thursday, February 20th in which the Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn and the WIPP Manager Jose Franco both said that the release was “very serious.”  Franco explained that the underground leak was the first of its kind since WIPP opened almost 15 years ago for the disposal of plutonium-contaminated waste generated by the nuclear weapons complex.  He added that an investigation team will begin work soon.

Flynn explained the state’s view of the leak by saying, “Events like this should never occur. From the state’s perspective, one event is far too many. Our primary concern continues to be public safety.”

Flynn traveled to Carlsbad after he was notified that radiation had been detected above ground.  He said, “We are wondering why it took a couple of days to confirm the radiological event outside of the underground. We will demand that federal officials share information with the public in real time. That’s the reason we are here.”

At the same time the New Mexico Environment Department draft hazardous waste permit supports WIPP’s proposal to increase the underground disposal capacity by 25 percent to allow much more waste for disposal; to reduce safety protections for workers and the public by eliminating robust barriers that would lessen the amount of toxic chemicals and radioactivity that could be released to the environment; and to reduce the air monitoring program for volatile organic compounds or VOCs. under “News”

Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Safety Program at the Southwest Research and Information Center, in Albuquerque, said, “Given the declining safety culture evidenced by the recent fire and radiation leak, this is no time to allow expansion of the capacity or the mission of WIPP.  Federal, Environment Department and public resources are best used now in understanding why the accidents happened, how to safely clean up the contamination, and how to prevent future accidents and leaks.”  See

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Recent articles about the WIPP fire and plutonium release:

ENE News has compiled a number of articles and comments –

Saturday, February 22, 2014 Carlsbad Current-Argus:  Town hall meeting to discuss WIPP radiation leak –

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board: Base WIPP response on science, not emotions – <>

Other links:

WIPP Information at the Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD) website, researched and written by Deborah Reade –

February 21, 2011, Analysis:  WIPP is no safe haven for nuclear materials –



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