Incident reported at US WIPP facility

15 April 2022

An incident at the US Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad in New Mexico led to the evacuation of workers on 9 April night from an area of the facility where waste is prepared for disposal. The incident was reported in the waste handling building, where shipments of nuclear waste are prepared for disposal in the underground repository, Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

Officials said there was no risk of a radiological release after the event was investigated. As a drum of waste was being processed, liquid was found at the bottom of the container which tested positive for radioactive contamination, according to a news release from WIPP officials. All personnel in the area were evacuated and tested for contamination, and operations were temporarily suspended.

Workers were not in the underground at the time of the incident, the release said. No radiation was released from the site, and there was no risk to the public.

Waste handling activities at WIPP involve moving nuclear waste into the facility and transporting it about 2,000 feet underground for permanent disposal in an underground salt deposit. The waste disposed of at WIPP is classified as transuranic (TRU) waste – clothes and equipment irradiated during nuclear activities at U.S. Department of Energy sites throughout the country.

A major incident at WIPP occurred in 2014, when an incorrectly-packaged drum of waste shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico ruptured due to a chemical reaction. The resulting radiation release contaminated parts of the WIPP underground and led to a three-year shutdown of the facility’s primary operations. The site reopened and began accepting waste again in 2017, with some areas of the underground remaining restricted and requiring workers to wear breathing apparatuses when entering.

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