Air monitor alarms at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Monday left workers at the nuclear waste repository temporarily staying indoors, although no radiological release was reported outside of section of the site where waste is prepared for disposal.
At about 3:10 a.m., continuous air monitors (CAMs) designed to detect radiation set off alerts at a waste handling bay at the WIPP site where nuclear waste readied to be buried underground.
WIPP’s Emergency Operations Center was activated at about 5:22 a.m.
Swipes from the waste handling bay did not pick up any contamination after workers entered the area, per a report from WIPP at about 11:45 a.m.
Filters from the CAMs were removed and were being tested for contamination, per the latest report.
After the CAM alarms were reported, WIPP staff conducted radiological testing outside the bay and found no contamination, per WIPP spokesman Donavan Mager.
The order for workers to stay inside was lifted at about 8:30 a.m.
WIPP officials reported there was no risk to the public or the environment, as no contamination was found outside of the waste handling bay.
The bay operates under negative air pressure, Mager said, meaning no air is releases from the building until it is directed through high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters before being exhausted.
It was unclear if the alarms were related to a waste shipment.
The waste, brought in from Department of Energy sites around the country, is disposed of via burial at WIPP in a salt deposit 2,000 feet underground.
More information will be released by WIPP officials when it becomes available.
Nuclear waste shipment problems reported at WIPP throughout year
This event was the latest in a string of incidents reported at the WIPP site this year, delaying waste handling activities and shipments from DOE sites, and leading to an inquiry from the New Mexico Environment Department – the permitting agency of the WIPP site.
On Aug. 23, an “oil substance” was found on a waste drum in shipment from Idaho National Laboratory, leading to workers being evacuated and waste handling paused that day, records show.
No contamination was found, and the liquid was discovered to be hydraulic fluid leaked from loading equipment at the lab where the shipment originated.
The fluid was cleaned off and the waste was emplaced in the WIPP underground.
Earlier that month on Aug. 9, a waste box from Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico was found missing a filter vent needed to prevent particulate matter from escaping the drum while gas is released.
That also led to an evacuation, and the vent was later found uncontaminated in the bay and reattached, records show.
This followed another drum from Idaho on Aug. 2 where an initial air survey from within the drum showed elevated levels of radiation, but no air escaped, per the DOE, and the shipment was sent back to Idaho.
The first incident this year was reported April 9, when an unknown liquid was found on a drum from Idaho, and dripped on the floor of the bay, testing positive for contamination.
No contamination was found in the air and the drums were decontaminated, per the DOE.
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.