Expert: No one in world has ever dealt with something like WIPP disaster — Continuous release of radioactive material ’24/7′ to environment — Nobody knows when leaking will end — It’s a ‘major failure’ for so many people to be exposed — Gov’t yet to say if dump will open again (AUDIO)

Published: April 6th, 2014 at 3:13 am ET
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AP, Apr 4, 2014: Workers are prepared to encounter contamination [&] will try to figure out what caused [WIPP's] mysterious leak [of radiation that] contaminated 21 workers […] [No one's been] underground [...] to find the source of the leak and determine if [the fire & radiation] are related.

Nuclear Hotseat #145, with host Libbe HaLevy, M.A., Apr. 1, 2014:

  • 5:15 in — Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Safety program and administrator at Southwest Research and Information Center: Data from what’s being captured [...] and what comes out of the filters, is that there have been continuing releases 24/7 […] There still is contamination coming out of the underground […] Numbers move around, but there’s always some amount of radioactivity in the underground air and lesser amounts being vented to the environment. Why it happened, why it was released, how much was really released, how much contamination there is in the underground, how long the releases continue, whether there could be further releases given that we don’t know what the situation is [...] All of those of things are unknowns.
  • 7:30 in — Hancock: It’s not credible to think that 21 workers breathed in contamination and the only place that there is contamination is on the workers. There clearly has to have been soil contamination. DOE’s own modeling is that there’s extensive soil contamination around the site. So there is a lot more soil sampling that needs to be done. […] This is one of the many things that we don’t know -– How much came out, and where it is now?
  • 8:30 in – Hancock: 40+ workers [still] waiting for results [...] certainly is possible there will be more than 21 [...] This is totally unacceptable […] There’s no reason that other workers should have come in and been contaminated, so it’s a major failure [...] There was never supposed to be this radiation release at all for 10,000 years.
  • 11:45 in — Hancock: The DOE itself hasn’t said when, or if, WIPP will reopen. The fact is that we don’t know [...] what caused the release, how to stop it, if underground can be decontaminated, how to decontaminate surface, how to deal with worker health problems — None of those are known [...] There is no instance in the world where you have an underground salt mine significantly contaminated with radiation [...] there is no experience in dealing with this situation. So we’re starting from square one. It will be difficult, if not impossible, and also very costly to cleanup the underground. Based on my 38 years in working with the Department of Energy, I find it virtually inconceivable — I hope they will decide if they can’t do total cleanup of the underground, I hope they will decide not to reopen it. […] We need independent analysis, independent medical people, and independent technical folks to look at what happened and why it happened and what kind of decontamination could be done, if any.

Full interview available for download here

Published: April 6th, 2014 at 3:13 am ET
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