Broken roof bolts directly above WIPP nuclear waste were reported the day before radiation event — Cracks seen in nearby wall — “Heaving of bottom” may have taken place below broken bolts
That’s among the findings in a new report put together by investigators.
They blast the department of energy and private contractors for a long list of safety shortfalls.
Read the full Investigation Report
Department of Energy investigators said when radioactive particles from the nuclear waste mine leaked past air filters, contaminating workers and the surrounding area, it was just one of several signs safety was not a high enough priority.
- They say workers not been trained well for a leak, so when the alarms went off, it was more than 10 hours before workers took shelter.
- Among dozens of problems, investigators found the air filter system protecting the surface world from a leak was poorly designed and should have been replaced years earlier.
- The only way for some ventilation controls to be operated was for workers to enter the contaminated area and become contaminated themselves which did happen.
- Below ground, a radiation monitor near the leak was broken most of the time.
- Investigators say after years of routine waste emplacement managers at WIPP and DOE put less emphasis on safety.
- That made workers afraid to point out problems.
- WIPP managers say they’ve taken action to correct the safety problems.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the cause of the release continues.
Teams in protective gear reached the area of the leak, but during their brief stay Wednesday, observed no obvious cause.
The roof had not collapsed. There was loose roof bolt spotted so, one theory is a falling bolt may have punctured a container or perhaps something else caused a container to burst.
The investigation board said that at the time of the leak many aspects of WIPP did not meet federal standards for operation of a nuclear facility.
The Department of Energy itself was blamed for a lack of oversight.
Radiological Release Event at WIPP, Department of Energy, Apr. 2014:
The Board presumes either the penetration of a waste container or multiple containers by a roof bolt, or partial collapse of the back (roof) and/or ribs (walls) caused the breach and release of contamination. […] February 10 and 12, two broken roof bolts were found near the mid-pillar of Panel 7 by [Nuclear Waste Partnership]. This condition was reported to the Mine Maintenance Engineer. On February 13, members of the Board investigating the salt truck fire were in the [underground] and observed these same roof bolts and reported protruding roof bolts from the back in Panel 7. Figure 6 shows cracks in the rib behind mesh and with rock bolts [and] where possible heaving of the bottom has taken place under the second stack […]
Dr. David Snow PhD, Engineering Science University of California-Berkeley, 2002: Unsafe Radwaste Disposal at WIPP:
[…] The 13-ft. high by 33-ft. wide rooms will be short-lived. Large open fractures appear in the ceilings of all rooms within months of mining. Several roof-falls and floor heaves have already occurred, so an extensive array of roof bolts has been installed to delay the failure […] These, and all future rooms will suffer collapse of major roof slabs bounded above by weak clay-bed partings. Such falls will crush the drums, and liberated waste […]