The Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday morning:
Federal investigators have uncovered a series of shortcomings in safety training, emergency response and oversight at the troubled southeastern New Mexico nuclear waste dump where a truck caught fire and 17 workers were recently contaminated by a radiation leak.
The report, released Friday, found a number of problems leading up to Feb. 5 fire underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP.) As the Journal reported, the fire:
…apparently was ignited by a buildup of oil and other combustible materials that should have been regularly cleaned off the vehicle. The truck also was operating without an automatic fire suppression system, the Department of Energy report said. And one of several mistakes made in the chaotic moments that followed switched the filtration systems in the storage site a half-mile underground and sent smoke billowing into areas where workers expected to have “good air.”
Six workers were treated for smoke inhalation after the fire.
The DOE found institutional problems at WIPP. According to the Journal:
The report also identified problems with safety culture at the federal government’s only permanent repository for waste from the nation’s nuclear bomb-building facilities, and it said a series of repeat deficiencies identified by an independent oversight board had gone unresolved.
A report on the February 14 radiation release is expected shortly:
An investigation of a radiation release nine days later that contaminated 17 workers and sent toxic particles into the air around the plant is expected to be complete in a few weeks.
At this point, officials say they are unsure whether the fire and the radiation release are related.