RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS IN NM WASTE FACILITY RELEASE CONTAMINANTS; 13 WORKERS TEST POSITIVE FOR EXPOSURE BUT EXPERTS SAY RISKS TO PUBLIC ARE LOW

Waste_Isolation_Pilot_Plant_2004

An accident which occurred at a private New Mexico facility for the storage of radioactive materials has reportedly exposed 13 workers to dangerous materials. Initial tests have concluded that the employees are not exhibiting any symptoms of radiation sickness but, as experts observe, many of the effects of exposure to radioactive materials do not manifest for many years and even decades.

(See http://xkcd.com/radiation/)

In spite of assurance from regional experts and federal authorities, many across the Southwest are concerned about the incident. An article published yesterday by the Oklahoma Observer has generated a small panic in the region over the potential dangers of the leak at the WIPP disposal facility. The article, written by Bob Nichols, titled “Oklahomans Poisoned by NM Nuke Garbage Dump” (http://www.okobserver.net/2014/03/05/oklahomans-poisoned-by-nm-nuke-garbage-dump/) is complete with a fall-out map showing most of the Sooner state covered by a green cloud of radiation. However, the article fails to cite any radiation-linked illnesses amongst the “Oklahomans poisoned.” Nevertheless, the fact that people in Oklahoma have not yet manifest symptoms of exposure does not necessarily mean there is no contamination. On the other hand, the article does not reference any empirical data proving exposure levels or citing suspected cases of exposure-related illness.

The WIPP facility houses radioactive waste generated during the Cold War. In another article featured at currentargus.com, reports from experts at the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, a division of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University detected “trace amounts of americium and plutonium on an air filter Wednesday afternoon at a sampling station off the WIPP Access Road.” The article goes on to report:

“‘The levels detected during this time period are higher than the normal background levels of radioactivity from transuranic elements commonly found at this sampling station, thus their presence during this specific time frame appears to indicate a small release of radioactive particles from the WIPP underground exhaust shaft in the brief moments following when the radiation event occurred and when the WIPP ventilation system shifted to the filtration mode,’ said Russell Hardy, the director for the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, in a news release. Analysis of the filter found trace amounts of americium and plutonium.

Hardy said even though small amounts of radiation were detected between Tuesday, Feb. 11, and Sunday, Feb. 16, it’s important to note that radiation levels have been “very low and are well below any level of public and environmental hazard.”

(See http://www.currentargus.com/ci_25179328/lab-radiation-detected-above-ground-near-wipp-site).

According to those specialists, there is no immediate risk to the surrounding population but the Department of Energy is conducting free tests for people in the surrounding area.

Rank and File Review contacted specialists at the Department of Environmental Quality who were not inclined to make any official statements but did casually remark that they were aware of the incident that occurred several weeks ago and are confident that the problem was “contained on site”. In a conversation with science historian and Oklahoma University Professor, Dr. Peter Barker – an expert on nuclear science and related issues who follows the news on nuclear incidents – the problem at the Carlsbad site was quickly controlled, saying “As far as I know, the system worked” indicating that the built-in safety features and protocols functioned properly and have prevented the incident from escalating into a major health or environmental crisis.

According to the real-time measurements for radioactivity provided through the Environmental Protection Agency’s RadNet, radiation levels in the Carlsbad area have been relatively normal.

(See http://epa.gov/radnet/radnet-data/radnet-carlsbad-bg.html)

RAF Staff

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