Roof Fall Not Cause of WIPP Radiation Release

Runs 4/25/14 through 5/2/14

(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:

*  Roof Fall Not Cause of WIPP Radiation Release

Tammy Reynolds, the Deputy Recovery Manager at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), reported Wednesday evening at a public meeting in Carlsbad that a catastrophic roof fall was not the cause of the February 14th radiation release.  But the cause of the release and the continuing radiation levels is still not known.  Reynolds reported that three workers walked into Panel 7 of the nuclear waste dump to find the drums that they could see were still standing in formation as they had been placed and there was no debris.  They were able to see the front face of the 258 contact-handled waste drums in Room 7.  They detected 10,000 disintegrations per minute of radiation, which is the measure of decay of radioactive particles.  They also went into Room 6 in order to look at the rear of the stacked drums in Room 7 and detected 20,000 disintegrations per minute of radiation.  From the two views, they did not see any abnormalities in the drums, despite the elevated levels of radiation.  The workers wore Level B hazmat suits with a self-contained air supply.

Also Wednesday, Ted Wyka, Chair of the Department of Energy (DOE) Accident Investigation Board, provided a summary of the 302-page report about the radiation release. The report was released on Thursday morning and is available at 

The report of the five-person Accident Board was submitted to DOE Headquarters on April 1.  Wyka did not explain the delay in its release. Wyka also did not provide a schedule for when he and other board members would be available for detailed questions and discussion about the report.  The Board also will prepare a Phase 2 report after reentry into the underground when a cause of the release is able to be determined.

The report concludes “that the unfiltered above ground release … was preventable.”  Further, “[t]he Board identified the direct cause of this accident to be the breach of at least one [transuranic] TRU waste container in the underground which resulted in airborne radioactivity escaping to the environment downstream of the [High Efficiency Particulate Air] HEPA filters.”  Not all of the radioactivity released went through the HEPA filters because two dampers in the exhaust building were not suitable and did not fully close, allowing radioactive particles to be released directly to the environment.

The report identifies eight contributing causes to the radiation release to the environment, including that the contractor, Nuclear Waste Partnership, does not have effective radiation protection, nuclear safety, or maintenance programs.  Further, DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office and Headquarters oversight is ineffective, especially since 2010, but the report does not explain why that declining safety culture occurred.

This has been the CCNS News Update.  For more information about our call for an independent investigation, please visit our website at



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