Radioactive Leak At U.S. Waste Dump Was Preventable, Report Says

Apr 24, 2014
Originally published on April 24, 2014 7:02 pm

A February accident at a nuclear waste dump that resulted in the contamination of 21 workers resulted in part from "poor management, ineffective maintenance and a lack of proper training and oversight," a Department of Energy report concludes.

NPR's Geoff Brumfiel says the report, released Thursday, says the release of radioactive material into the environment from the Feb. 14 accident at the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., could have been prevented. The facility is a repository for defense-related nuclear waste.

The 300-page report cites a degraded safety culture, lack of training and poor maintenance for the radioactive release.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

"The accident occurred in one of the facility's waste-storage vaults, which are more than 2,000 feet underground. But some radioactive contamination was able to reach the above-ground environment and contaminate 21 workers at the site. The exposures aren't expected to cause health problems, Energy Department officials said."

An emergency filtration system designed to keep contamination below ground was not able to contain it all and some radioactivity escaped to the surface, Brumfiel says.

"Much of the blame falls on the contractor that runs the site, Nuclear Waste Partnership. But the report also blames the Energy Department itself for failing to adequately oversee the facility," he reports.

DOE Accident Investigation Board Chairman Ted Wyka identified numerous problems with the handling of the situation, which he said resulted from "degradation of key safety management and safety culture."

Among other things, it took hours for managers to implement emergency procedures, he said.

"The bottom line is they failed to believe initial indications of the release," Wyka said, according to the AP.

The Journal says:

"The report is the latest blow to the image of the facility, which had been held up as a success story by government officials in the nation's often-troubled effort to deal with the radioactive legacy of the atomic-weapons program. The 15-year-old plant, 26 miles east of Carlsbad, N.M., holds more than 171,000 containers of radioactive waste from the weapons program in vaults dug out of salt formations."

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