DOE Headquarters Launches an Investigation Into the WIPP Release
On June 16, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) DC Office of Independent Enterprise Assessments notified Nuclear Waste Partnership, LLC, the operating contractor for DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, of its intent to conduct an investigation. The investigation will look into potential nuclear safety, worker safety, and health programmatic deficiencies associated with the two events in February.
WIPP has been shut down since February 5, 2014, when a salt-hauling truck caught fire, forcing evacuation of 86 workers from underground, 13 of whom were treated for smoke inhalation. Nine days later, an air monitor detected radiation underground where waste had recently been emplaced. The emergency filtration started, but radioactive particles were released to the environment. That resulted in contamination of all 13 people working above ground.
The DOE headquarters’ investigation may be a good start (hopefully), but Nuclear Watch NM, and many other groups, wants a truly independent, public investigation. This investigation should determine the cause of the WIPP radiation release, the extent of underground and surface contamination, the medical and compensation requirements for contaminated workers, and options for cleaning up underground and surface contamination.
In the meantime, TRU must be stored safely and securely at other DOE sites, regardless of how long WIPP is closed. Unnecessary waste shipments should not occur while WIPP is closed. Additional newly-generated TRU waste from nuclear weapons production, which exacerbates existing problems, should not be produced.