Nuclear waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico must be stored above ground until the facility is reopened.
The New Mexico Environment Department issued the administrative order on March 4 that the waste must be stored above ground for 30 to 60 days at times, and allows some of the drums to be stored for an additional 45 to 105 days under certain circumstances. Much of the waste comes from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Officials also said the site cannot accept any off-site generated waste until normal operations resume. The department must also receive weekly reports on actions taken at the facility during a Feb. 5 salt truck fire that happened in the underground area as well as the radiological event.
On Feb. 14, a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in an underground storage area on site. The U.S. Department of Energy, which operates the site, said there were no employees underground at the time the monitors went off and the ventilation system automatically began to filter the air. DOE later reported that 13 employees were exposed to the radiation, but follow up tests showed exposure levels were extremely low. The source of the leak is still unknown.
The state Environment Department will determine when the plant can reopen.
To read the administrative order, click here.
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