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Topic Title: Radiation Leak at Underground Nuclear Waste Facility in America
Topic Summary: At the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), New Mexico
Created On: 07 March 2014 11:20 PM
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 07 March 2014 11:20 PM
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The radiation leak site that wants more nuclear waste

"A recent radiation leak at America's only nuclear waste repository threatens the future of waste storage in the country. But leaders in the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico, still want their area to be a destination for America's radioactive history."

The nuclear waste repository has been constructed in a salt mine.

"The facility, 26 miles (42km) east of the city, looks from the outside like any industrial site, except for the large, empty canisters sitting in the car park.

But 2,150ft (655m) below, WIPP is a cool cavern, with wide pathways cut out of pure salt on every side. Each storage section, known as a panel, is 13ft high, 33ft wide and 300ft long.

WIPP can only take certain types of waste. It must all be from US defence projects and be transuranic - contaminated by elements beyond uranium in the periodic table in which radioactivity is particularly long-lived. Most of its waste is solid: radioactive gloves, tools and debris."

"In October 2013, WIPP officials and Carlsbad residents told the BBC the site's excellent safety record gave them confidence.

In early February, that record ended, when a small fire on a lorry hauling salt closed down the underground portion of the site. Then late on 14 February, underground sensors detected radiation. More tests confirmed that two radioactive particles, isotopes of americium and plutonium, were found on aboveground air filters.

Before the leak, WIPP boasted an excellent safety record
Later, preliminary test results indicated 13 employees working above ground that day had inhaled or ingested radioactive material."

Arnie Gundersen is reporting on the Fairewinds website, that whisleblowers have told him that the ceiling in one part of the mine collapsed causing some sort of nuclear waste spill involving plutonium and americium underground.

Whether or not Arnie Gundersen's provisional account of the accident fairly reflects what has accually happened is not yet clear. However there is political pressure on the US Department of Energy to clarify and explain what has happened at the mine, including the nature and extent of the above ground releases through the mine ventilation system.

See this new story...

Questions remain after WIPP town hall meeting

"The Department of Energy worked to reassure people they are safe, even though the underground storage areas remained sealed off.

"There are no health impacts to you, to your family, the members of your community from the event," said WIPP technical advisor Fran Williams.

WIPP officials say the radiation levels around the WIPP site have now tested normal and there is no threat to the Carlsbad community."

What implications this will have for the future of Geological Disposal of Nuclear Waste in the UK, depends on the precise nature of accident. Basically the only potentially credible place we may have in the UK to store nuclear waste underground is in water impermeable clay deposits in certain areas of the South of England. The NDA haven't got as far as admitting this to us all yet, although there has been a visit to London Underground projects to see how it might be done.

RWMD engineers visit London underground projects

"Neil Carr said:

"This was really informative for us as it has relevance to construction underground and provided us with an insight to the challenges of excavations in clay and chalk geological environments."

"The size of the excavations in these projects has many similarities to those of our conceptual designs for a geological disposal facility. The visits presented us with a great opportunity to see a range of design solutions and tunnelling technologies being applied in practice. Although the tunnelling projects were relatively shallow being approximately 80 to 100 metres underground, the challenges presented could be related to aspects of our designs." "

NDA's Radioactive Waste Management Directorate (RWMD)

For those that want investigate this pssibility further, details on the National Geological Model currently being developed by the British Geological Survey is here...

"The National Geological Model (NGM) team's objective is to construct an accurate, multi-scalar, geospatial model of the subsurface arrangement of the rocks and sediments of the UK."

"The GB3D geological model for Great Britain is available for free as a digital download; either as a 3D pdf, as a Google Earth layer or as part of a free BGS model viewer"

James Arathoon
 11 March 2014 01:40 AM
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According to this report from KRQE four more employees found to have low levels of radioactive exposure, bringing the total to 17.

Wipp radiation leak still a mystery

Various matters are discussed in the news video including how the vault ceilings are designed to collapse on the waste eventually (years later) once the storage rooms are filled and sealed.... long roof bolts are designed to slow but not stop this collapse process from taking place. Workers maintain salt mine walls and ceilings with long poles knocking off loose flakes so they don't fall on workers unexpectedly...

It still remains uncertain if material falling from the ceiling ruptured one or more radioactive waste containers. According to the report the other possibility is that one of the containers pressurised and "blew up" of its own accord. The radioactive leak seems unconnected with the earlier fire around 3000 feet away, nearer to the main entrance shafts. However the fire had luckily meant that no workers were actually in the mine when the later radioactive leak took place.

No actual radioactive readings have been given yet as far as I am aware.

James Arathoon
 11 March 2014 07:36 AM
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Radiation levels have been published, but they are probably too low for the scaremongers to want to print.

Here are some of the official links and a reasonable write up with some technical details:

(I do feel that the DOE media contact has an unfortunate name ;-)

Best regards


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