13 WIPP employees test positive for radiation

CARLSBAD, N.M. (KRQE) – The Department of Energy announced Wednesday tests show 13 employees at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad were exposed to radiation.

There will be more testing to see if more people were exposed, and an investigation into how this happened in the first place.

The underground facility, which stores low-level contaminated waste from Los Alamos and other nuclear sites, is still closed.

No one knows yet how bad the situation is in that storage area, but the Department of Energy sent out a letter Wednesday to tell people in two counties what they do know so far.

DOE said 13 WIPP staff who were working above ground the day of the leak have tested positive for radiation.

Officials said it is too early to know what that means for the workers’ health, but that people in contact with them are not at risk.

Residents are still concerned.

“I don’t think the people really know what’s going on at WIPP,” said Carlsbad resident, Robert Ortiz. “WIPP has always been secretive.”

In a letter to the people of Eddy and Lea counties, DOE said the radiation that got into the air Valentine’s Day was likely at very low levels, no more risky than a chest X-ray.

Eddy County Manager Rick Rudometkin said he is confident DOE is handling it.

“Whenever you have a disaster of any kind, there are always issues. You always mitigate the disaster and you move forward,” Rudometkin said.

He focused instead on WIPP’s positive economic impact.

“I think it provides business. It provides jobs. It provides a future,” he said.

Related: WIPP leak sparks community concern

There has been talk about possibly expanding WIPP to take more dangerous material in the future, but the State Environment Secretary suggested last week this leak could have an impact on that.

“WIPP’s track record is something we consider in making any decisions about expanding its storage capacity or its mission for different streams of waste,” Ryan Flynn said.

The next priority is testing the employees who worked the day after the leak.

The DOE and the company that runs WIPP will update everyone on what is going on at the plant Thursday afternoon. KRQE will have a crew there.

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