‘Sparking’ nuclear waste drum at Los Alamos National Lab leads to evacuation at WIPP

“A sparking drum of nuclear waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) led to a temporary evacuation of a section of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s underground repository as officials investigated if any other drums of waste emplaced at WIPP posed a similar threat.”


Investigators later found no one was hurt and no radiation was released, according to a March 12 letter from the lab to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Hazardous Waste Bureau.

The lab reported it happened as workers packed a drum of low-level transuranic (TRU) waste on Feb. 26 for delivery and disposal at WIPP.

TRU waste is equipment, clothing materials and other items radiated during nuclear activities.

During the packing process, two high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters were placed into a drum, followed by a “metal waste item,” read the letter from the lab.

The item tore the bag containing the HEPA filters, and sparks were observed coming out of the container when the item contacted the filters.

Workers at the lab immediately pulled the fire alarm, the letter read, and left the area.

“Following immediate response and clearing of the scene by the Los Alamos Fire Department, the initial inspection revealed that there was no release of waste or radiological contamination outside of the glovebox,” the letter read. “Visual observations showed no damage to the drum-out bag or gloves.”

An investigation began at the lab on March 1 and found the HEPA filters contained fragments from titanium welding which were oxidized when the bag was torn and caused the sparking.

The Environment Department was first notified of the incident three days later by WIPP on March 4, after the lab notified the repository.

The lab made its initial report to NMED on March 9.

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