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Clean up at nuclear waste site may cost more than expected

Back in February, a deadly chemical reaction at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico broke open a storage drum and leaked into the air, which caused the plant to close.

The WIPP is used for storing waste from the makings of plutonium bombs.  Luckily, the incident occurred at night and no one was extensively harmed.  Few workers suffered very small radiation exposure and a small amount of radioactive waste seeped into the environment.

Yet, even with very little damage or injury caused, the incident forced the plant to close and has taken a blow at the country’s efforts to clean up old nuclear weapon manufacturing plants.  The incident has caused the government to take extreme measures to prevent another leak.  According to the Energy Department, the cost of reopening the waste plant is at least $551 million and will span into next year.

The state of New Mexico is also considering fining the Energy Department for its safety negligence at the WIPP and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory where the nuclear waste was packaged.

The Energy Department has also taken precautions with other similar containers.  Some have been buried in sealed rooms at the plant and others have been placed in reinforced temporary storage at a low-level waste site in Andrews, Texas.

The nuclear waste spill reflects on a problem that the weapons complex has had for years – radioactive materials cannot be mixed with organic chemicals otherwise the radiation will create explosive gases.  The fact is causing people to question the Energy Department’s capability to learn from the mistakes it has made when dealing with leftover nuclear bomb manufacturing.

Secretary of the Environment Department in New Mexico, Ryan C. Flynn, commented on the issue:

***I don’t know how you can look at the facts themselves or any of the subsequent investigations and not have serious questions about the effectiveness of management and oversight at Los Alamos National Laboratory and WIPP.

Flynn and his staff are drafting a proposal to fine the federal government because the Energy Department failed to uphold its state environmental permit.

To read the full article about the nuclear waste leak in Carlsbad, New Mexico, by the New York Times, click here.

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