DOE releases scathing report on WIPP leak

CARLSBAD, N.M. (KRQE) – The radioactive contamination of at least 21 workers at WIPP in February happened because there wasn’t enough emphasis on safety.

That’s among the findings in a new report put together by investigators.

They blast the department of energy and private contractors for a long list of safety shortfalls.

Department of Energy investigators said when radioactive particles from the nuclear waste mine leaked past air filters, contaminating workers and the surrounding area, it was just one of several signs safety was not a high enough priority.

They say workers not been trained well for a leak, so when the alarms went off, it was more than 10 hours before workers took shelter.

Among dozens of problems, investigators found the air filter system protecting the surface world from a leak was poorly designed and should have been replaced years earlier.

The only way for some ventilation controls to be operated was for workers to enter the contaminated area and become contaminated themselves which did happen.

Below ground, a radiation monitor near the leak was broken most of the time.

Investigators say after years of routine waste emplacement managers at WIPP and DOE put less emphasis on safety.

That made workers afraid to point out problems.

WIPP managers say they’ve taken action to correct the safety problems.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the cause of the release continues.

Teams in protective gear reached the area of the leak, but during their brief stay Wednesday, observed no obvious cause.

The roof had not collapsed. There was loose roof bolt spotted so, one theory is a falling bolt may have punctured a container or perhaps something else caused a container to burst.

The investigation board said that at the time of the leak many aspects of WIPP did not meet federal standards for operation of a nuclear facility.

The Department of Energy itself was blamed for a lack of oversight.

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