Safety lapses rapped after US nuclear plant fire

March 15, 2014
A fire which sparked the evacuation of a major underground US nuclear waste plant last month was preventable, according to a report highlighting safety lapses at the site

A fire which sparked the evacuation of a major underground US nuclear waste plant last month was preventable, according to a report highlighting safety lapses at the site.

Poor training, badly maintained equipment and unclear procedures were criticized in the into the subterranean blaze at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Eighty-six workers were underground when the fire broke out on a salt-hauling truck on February 5, in a rare accident at the site used to dispose of material including plutonium-contaminated .

Six workers were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation. Less than two weeks later a low-level radiation leak was detected, although it was not clear whether it was linked to the fire.

The report into the fire detailed a list of problems, including that the " protection program was less than adequate," and that both the maintenance and emergency management response programs were "ineffective."

There was also "ineffective training and drilling" and "inadequate Headquarters oversight," it added.

"The Board concluded that this accident was preventable," said the 187-page report by an Accident Investigation Board appointed by the US Department of Energy (DoE).

The DoE describes the New Mexico site as "the nation's first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons."

The plant, some 270 miles (434 kilometers) southeast of Albuquerque, is used to dispose of material that includes plutonium-tainted waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) away, also in New Mexico.

The waste is dumped 2,150 feet (655 meters) underground in large rooms excavated in an ancient, stable salt formation.

Carlsbad is about 70 miles (115 kilometers) from Roswell, the infamous site of a mysterious 1947 crash which spawned conspiracy theories that the military had covered up a UFO landing, and captured aliens inside an alleged spacecraft.

Experts are hoping to re-enter the effected underground area in the next two or three weeks, the report noted.

"The re-entry team and support personnel continue to perform simulated re-entry scenarios .... The personnel re-entry is planned for later this month," it said.

Explore further: Radiation leak detected at New Mexico nuclear plant

Related Stories

13 were exposed to radiation at US plant

February 27, 2014

(AP)—Thirteen workers at a U.S. underground nuclear waste dump in New Mexico have tested positive for radiation exposure after a recent leak, raising questions about whether the facility's safety systems worked as well ...

Nuclear dump leak raises questions about cleanup

February 28, 2014

(AP)—Back-to-back accidents and a never-supposed-to-happen above-ground radiation release that exposed at least 13 workers have shuttered the U.S. government's only deep underground nuclear waste dump indefinitely.

Officials: No health risks for US nuke workers

March 6, 2014

(AP)—Thirteen employees who were exposed to radiation during a leak at the nation's only underground nuclear waste dump aren't likely to experience any health effects, federal officials said Wednesday.

Workers preparing to enter New Mexico nuke dump

March 10, 2014

Specially trained workers are finalizing plans to enter the nation's only underground nuclear waste dump after two separate incidents forced its closure weeks ago, including a leak that exposed more than a dozen workers to ...

Recommended for you

History shows more big wildfires likely as climate warms

October 5, 2015

The history of wildfires over the past 2,000 years in a northern Colorado mountain range indicates that large fires will continue to increase as a result of a warming climate, according to new study led by a University of ...

Predictable ecosystems may be more fragile

October 7, 2015

When it comes to using our natural resources, human beings want to know what we're going to get. We expect clean water every time we turn on the tap; beaches free of algae and bacteria; and robust harvests of crops, fish ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.