Carlsbad New Mexico GDF Radiation Leak Raises Concerns

The radiation exposure of at least 13 workers at a nuclear dump [sic] in a New Mexico salt bed more than 2,000 feet below the ground has brought new attention to the nation’s long struggle to find places to dispose of tons of Cold War-era waste.

The above-ground radiation release that exposed the workers during a night shift two weeks ago shut down the facility as authorities investigate the cause and attempt to determine the health effects on the employees. The mishap has also raised questions about a cornerstone of the Department of Energy’s $5-billion-a-year program for cleaning up waste scattered across the country from decades of nuclear-bomb making.

Waste handling operations were suspended and rescue teams activated earlier in the month when a truck hauling salt caught fire. According to a press release at the time, all employees were evacuated and none of the radioactive waste had been impacted. However it was also being reported that “multiple employees” were taken to a hospital for potential smoke inhalation.

Nuclear Weapon Waste - Carlsbad

Nuclear bomb waste being shipped to the deep geologic repository near Carlsbad, New Mexico.Source: DOE (US)

With operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on hold, so are all shipments, including the last of nearly 4,000 barrels of toxic waste that Los Alamos National Laboratory has been ordered to remove from its campus by the end of June. Other waste from labs in Idaho, Illinois and South Carolina is also without a home while operations are halted.

A member of the community Tom Udall says he will ask the Environmental Protection Agency to send air monitors to southeastern New Mexico following a radiation release from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump [sic] near Carlsbad. Udall says he will send a letter requesting the portable monitors. Udall says the health and safety of the community and workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant are his top priority. The EPA has regulatory authority over the site and any airborne radiation releases.

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