New Mexico nuclear waste accident a ‘horrific comedy of errors’ that exposes deeper problems
The horrifying story of carelessness in the containment of high-level radioactive waste at WIPP. Thousands more barrels remain indistinguishable and thus un-locatable containing this same potentially explosive formula.” Former WIPP Official: “The DOE sites that sent in the waste got careless in documenting what was being shipped in … The contractors at the sites packing the waste were not exactly meticulous. When we complained to DOE, it was made clear we were just to keep taking the waste and to shut up.”
The precise cause of the February 14 accident involving a radioactive waste barrel at the world’s only deep geological radioactive waste repository has yet to be determined, but information about the accident continues to come to light.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, USA, is a dump site for long-lived intermediate-level waste from the US nuclear weapons program. More than 171,000 waste containers are stored in salt caverns 2,100 feet (640 meters) underground.
On February 14, a heat-generating chemical reaction – the Department of Energy (DOE) calls it a ‘deflagration’ rather than an explosion – compromised the integrity of a barrel and spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, into the environment, and to an air monitoring approximately 3,000 feet north-west of the exhaust shaft. 
The accident resulted in 22 workers receiving low-level internal radiation exposure.
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