“Radiation leaks could still be occurring” at WIPP — Locals worried since “no one knows anything” — Workers to use “military-like tactics… ready to risk everything” — “Event has changed WIPP” — “Life as we knew it is going to be different”

Sunday, March 23, 2014
By Paul Martin

March 23rd, 2014

New York Times, Mar. 20, 2014: “The event that has happened has changed WIPP,” [Jose R. Franco, manager of the Department of Energy’s Carlsbad field office] said, using the popular nickname for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. “But we need it to reopen.” […] “Did we ever think it could happen? No, but it did,” [Rick Fuentes, president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers union] said. “So everybody has to come to terms with the reality that life as we knew it at WIPP is going to be different now.”

Indian Country Today, Mar. 20, 2014: Local Carlsbad residents, even those who work there or are dependent on WIPP’s economic benefits, are worried because “no one knows anything.” They are glad that the EPA has come in to investigate as well, because they don’t know if they can trust what WIPP officials have to say about the leak and any radiation contamination. […] “no one knows anything” — explanations are criticized and officials are mistrusted.

Carlsbad Current Argus, Mar. 22, 2014: Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership has spent weeks training for the day when teams are sent below ground to investigate the transuranic nuclear waste drums […] the military-like tactics will consist of a balance of risks according to Re-entry Team Leader Wes Bryan. […] A myriad of factors play a role in the underground investigation process and any mistake has the possibility of derailing the task. […] Bryan has prepped his mine rescue team how to respond to any and all “worst case scenarios.” […] Bryan said, if the closed air circuit for a rescue team member fails, that person should remove their helmet because suffocation poses a greater and more immediate threat of death than breathing in radioactive particles underground. […] inherent risks and dangers cannot be overlooked and the mine rescue team is ready to risk everything to ensure the safety of the Carlsbad and surrounding communities.

Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Safety Program at the Southwest Research and Information Center, Mar. 22, 2014: “A month after the fact, we still don’t know what happened because no humans or robots have been underground. Radiation leaks could still be occurring. On top of that, the amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere may be unknowable forever. […] What we are certain of is that plutonium and americium are very dangerous and typically cause fatal lung cancer when inhaled. Yet, if you believe the Department of Energy, these employees face no health risks whatsoever. […] There are 170,000 total containers buried at this site, with many holding contaminated plutonium waste from making nuclear bombs. […] The release of radioactive material wasn’t supposed to happen for 15,000 years, yet WIPP had its first catastrophe in 15 years.”

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