cause of new mexico nuclear waste accident remains a mystery - 55 gallon drum
Later in February, The gallon barrel of nuclear waste buried in a 2,150 feet-meter salt well in the desert of New Mexico erupted violently.
And a large amount of radioactive white foam.
The flowing substance looks like a whipped cream, but with plutonium added, spread through the air, reach the surface along the ventilation pipe, and deliver low
The horizontal radiation dose of 21 workers.
The accident contaminated the only nuclear weapons waste dump in the United States.
Used to be the focus of energy department pride-
Gave the country's nuclear chemical elite a mystery that they still can't solve.
Six months after the accident, the exact chemical reaction that caused the bulging burst was still unclear.
In fact, DOE has been unable to accurately identify the chemical composition of the waste in the drum, a serious error in the treatment process, and requires careful recording and approval of each substance packed for nuclear dumping.
The work to identify waste to be disposed of and prepared for burial will become more difficult in the coming years, as Doe wants to deal with higher radioactive waste now stored in nuclear disposal sites across the country, and transform it into glass, which will be buried in the heights of the future. level dumps.
An accident at a factory near CarlsbadM.
Known as a Waste Isolation Pilot Plant or WIPP, may result in a minimum of 18-
It may be shut down and shut down for several years.
In nationwide nuclear clearance projects, waste transportation has been supported, and even before the accident, these projects have fallen behind for several years.
A preliminary DOE investigation found more than 30 security holes in the plant, including technical defects and overall safety method failures.
Nine days before the release of radiation, a huge salt
The transport truck caught fire underground and burned for hours before it was discovered.
The report found that "degradation of key safety management projects and safety culture leads to the release of radioactive substances from the ground to the environment. "The 15-year-
Old factory run by San Francisco-led partner-based URS Corp.
The survey found that "there is no effective nuclear safety plan ".
The accident triggered a serious problem with the energy sector's ability to safely manage the country's deadly nuclear waste inventory, which has been decades behind and faces serious technical challenges.
"The accident was a terrible wrong comedy," said James Conka, a science consultant and expert at WIPP.
"This is the flagship project of the Department of Energy and the most successful project.
This will have a huge impact.
The head rolls.
"There is no official estimate of the cost of the accident, but external experts and time analysis indicate that the accident could be close to $1 billion based on the annual budget of the WIPP;
The need to purify the facilities;
Security upgrades identified by officials;
Nuclear weapons clearance plans are delayed over the next decade.
The WIPP was designed to put waste from nuclear weapons production into ancient salt mines that would eventually collapse and embed radioactivity in at least 10,000 years.
The dump was dug out like a traditional salt mine, but there was a maze of rooms to accommodate waste. It handles low-and medium-
Radioactive material known as Super uranium waste, artificial elements
Mainly for plutonium
Produced in the process of producing nuclear weapons.
Until the Valentine's Day disaster, it has not had major problems for 15 years.
The ventilation and filtration system of the plant should have prevented any radioactive material from entering the environment.
But investigators have found that the Department of Energy has never asked ventilation systems to meet nuclear safety standards.
When the monitor detects radiation, the damper should route the ventilated air into the filter to prevent any radioactivity from reaching the surface, but the damper leaks and thousands of cubic feet of air bypass the filter.
Fortunately, no one was working in the mine at the time of the accident.
However, the emergency response has been slow. The first high-
At 11: 14 at night, the radiation alarm sounded. m.
When the control room manager tried-
According to the survey report, call the radiation control specialists and they can't find anyone.
By the morning, the workers were trying to replace the filter.
Until 9: 34 A. M. m.
About 10 hours after the first alarm sounded, did the manager order about 150 workers on the surface of the site to move to a safe place.
The management staff spent 13 hours staffing an emergency operations center.
Energy Department officials said that hours after the accident, the radiation dose the worker received was only a small part of the allowable occupational limit and that the worker should not have an impact on health.
Although there was a problem with the WIPP operating procedure, the dump itself did not cause an accident.
Steel drums are packaged at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
The drum mainly contains nitrate, a by-product of the chemical process of extracting plutonium, used as a trigger for hydrogen bombs.
Investigators believe that there have been some chemical or packaging changes in Los Alamos, and they are looking at whether the change has been approved by senior laboratory chemists.
A team of experts at WIPP may have missed the change as well.
Investigators are looking at a variety of materials that may be added to the drum, including lead, tungsten, acid and even cat litter, which are all possible factors for the explosion.
"They are not yet able to replicate this reaction in the lab," said Ed Lehmann, a physicist at the Union of scientists involved.
"There is no guarantee that they will not have another thing in the future.
The bigger problem here is how good they describe nuclear waste, so it will be safe.
"Other drums of the same material are still stored at WIPP, as well as at a private dump in Los Alamos and Texas, and nuclear experts say it is not possible to rule out another leak.
Robert Alvares, former assistant minister of energy, recently criticized the performance of the department, saying that the risk of WIPP radioactive release should be every 200,000 years, 15 years gone
"This is a serious violation," he said . "
Conca and others believe that WIPP's basic technology is reasonable, and he hopes officials will not overreact to the accident.
But in the best case, the WIPP may be closed for 18 months, which is causing concern in states that are already impatient with the Department of Energy's slow clean-up schedule.
The Department of Energy has informed New Mexico officials that it will not be able to remove all 3,706 m³ of the ultra-uranium waste in Los Alamos by the deadline due to WIPP closure.
At the Idaho National Laboratory, there is concern that the WIPP closure may prevent Doe from fulfilling its legal agreement to remove all ultra-uranium waste by 2018.
Curt Fransen, director of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said federal officials had begun discussions about building new warehouses in the laboratory to store waste due to the WIPP accident.
At the Hanford plant in Washington state, the WIPP closure could result in additional delays in transporting 8,841 barrels, boxes and other containers to the New Mexico plant, said Deborah singhton of the National Ecology Division.
In Carlsbad, the closest city to WIPP, officials expressed support for the economically critical dump, but they were also worried about safety.
Ernest J. , Minister of Energy.
This month, Jay Jenkins, president of the Carlsbad National Bank, told him at the town hall meeting that he did not believe that WIPP had sufficient funds to ensure safety.
Moniz acknowledged this concern and promised to ensure the future safety of the plant.
"You are with us and we are with you," Moniz said . ". ralph.
Vartabedian @ latimes.