CARLSBAD, N.M. (KRQE) – The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad will reopen, but it won’t be any time soon. Tuesday, the Department of Energy Secretary announced future recovery plans for WIPP and they include a target open date 18 months from now.
The site shut down after a February radiation leak that exposed 22 workers to radiation.
“WIPP will be restored to full operations,” said Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
Moniz and state officials visited the nuclear facility Tuesday morning. They all had a very strong message for the community.
“My message is we are going to stick together. You stick with us we, will stick with you and we will get the job done,” said Moniz.
But getting that job done is going to take some time. The DOE says it would like to restart at least some operations at WIPP within the next 18 months, but that’s only if the recovery process goes smoothly.
“I can’t stand here and say there won’t be some bumps in the road on that,” said Moniz.
Before WIPP can reopen, the department needs to figure out what caused the leak. Investigators do know it originated in a barrel of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory, but scientists are still investigating the cause.
That leak did highlight some bigger problems those who run WIPP now have to address. An initial report detailing the accident cited a lack of oversight at the plant and said there had been an erosion of safety. Those at WIPP and the DOE have made it clear they’re determined to get the plant back to where it needs to be.
“Right now the major focus is on recovery. Understanding and recovery,” said Moniz. “We still have work to do, but it is happening.”
WIPP is still employing all of its staff although operations have stopped. Officials say employees are working on maintenance, site safety and recovery plans. The DOE says it hopes to have a timeline for reopening by the end of September.