Oversight chair questions safety at nuke dump - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Oversight chair questions safety at nuke dump

Oversight chair questions safety at nuke dump

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The recent truck fire and radiation release from the government's troubled nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico were "near misses" at a facility whose workers proved unprepared to respond to the emergencies, the head of an independent oversight agency said.

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Chairman Peter Winokur also said the Feb. 5 underground truck fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was preventable, and that the initial response to a radiation release that contaminated 17 workers nine days later was unsatisfactory.

"As a result, the internal contamination level of workers, although minor, was nevertheless greater than necessary," Winokur wrote Friday in response to a query from New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. "The local WIPP Emergency Operations Center was ineffective, and the DOE (Department of Energy) emergency center at headquarters in Washington, D.C., was never notified, as would have been appropriate."

Winokur's letter was the second critical assessment of the plant's operations, safety procedures and emergency response to the back-to-back incidents.

A series of shortcomings were cited two weeks ago by a team that investigated the truck fire. Officials have yet to get underground to figure out what caused the radiation release.

Udall and Heinrich requested the assessment from Winokur, who is head of the independent federal agency charged with overseeing public health and safety issues at Department of Energy defense-related nuclear facilities.

Much of the letter repeated findings of the accident review team. But Winokur also noted that his agency has since 2010 sent four letters to the Department of Energy about flaws in WIPP's fire-prevention program. Incremental improvements were made, but key issues were not adequately addressed, he said.

Winokur also said that while the cause of the radiation release is not yet known, "significant improvements in the safety strategy for WIPP are warranted to address design basis accidents that lead to radiation releases."

"We don't expect anyone in the above ground to receive any radiation contamination, none whatsoever," Winokur said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Before the accidents, the plant operated for 15 years with a solid safety record, which critics have cited for a declining culture of valuing safety.

Winokur said his agency is "trying to get a sense of whether over time there has been a little less rigor in operation."

WIPP is the nation's only permanent underground repository for low-level radioactive waste, including things like plutonium-contaminated gloves, tools and protective clothing, from nuclear weapons facilities.

The plant near Carlsbad stopped taking all waste shipments after the underground truck fire, and all operations have been shuttered since the Valentine's Day radiation release.
  • Local NewsNewsMore>>

  • Emoluments suit vs. Trump now personal as well as official

    Emoluments suit vs. Trump now personal as well as official

    Saturday, February 24 2018 12:45 AM EST2018-02-24 05:45:34 GMT
    Saturday, February 24 2018 1:26 AM EST2018-02-24 06:26:35 GMT

    AGs of Maryland, DC expand emoluments lawsuit against Trump, suing him not only as president but in his personal capacity as a businessman.

    AGs of Maryland, DC expand emoluments lawsuit against Trump, suing him not only as president but in his personal capacity as a businessman.

  • The Latest: Ledecka wins 2nd gold medal of Pyeongchang Games

    The Latest: Ledecka wins 2nd gold medal of Pyeongchang Games

    Friday, February 23 2018 8:14 PM EST2018-02-24 01:14:57 GMT
    Saturday, February 24 2018 1:19 AM EST2018-02-24 06:19:37 GMT
    (AP Photo/Michael Sohn). Driver Nadezhda Sergeeva and Anastasia Kocherzhova of the Olympic Athletes of Russia take a curve in their third heat during the women's two-man bobsled final at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, ...(AP Photo/Michael Sohn). Driver Nadezhda Sergeeva and Anastasia Kocherzhova of the Olympic Athletes of Russia take a curve in their third heat during the women's two-man bobsled final at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, ...

    The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation says it isn't commenting yet on an alleged anti-doping rule violation by Russian women's bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva.

    The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation says it isn't commenting yet on an alleged anti-doping rule violation by Russian women's bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva.

  • Ex-Trump aide pleads guilty, will cooperate in Russia probe

    Ex-Trump aide pleads guilty, will cooperate in Russia probe

    Friday, February 23 2018 12:14 AM EST2018-02-23 05:14:34 GMT
    Saturday, February 24 2018 12:36 AM EST2018-02-24 05:36:54 GMT
    (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File). FILE - in this Feb. 14, 2018, file photo, Rick Gates departs Federal District Court in Washington. In a dramatic escalation of pressure and stakes, special counsel Robert Mueller filed additional criminal charges Thursday...(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File). FILE - in this Feb. 14, 2018, file photo, Rick Gates departs Federal District Court in Washington. In a dramatic escalation of pressure and stakes, special counsel Robert Mueller filed additional criminal charges Thursday...

    Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed additional criminal charges against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman and his business associate.

    Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed additional criminal charges against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman and his business associate.

Powered by Frankly