The Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a.k.a. WIPP, is a facility in southeastern New Mexico for storing high level transuranic waste that has been piling up since the 1940s, primarily from nuclear weapons production. In cavern "rooms" excavated in an ancient Permian salt bed more than 2,000 feet below the ground, the 16 square mile facility stores the long-lived defense actinide waste in stacked metal drums and lead-shielded casks. This waste includes Plutonium, Americium, and other nasty high-energy alpha and beta particle emitters.
On Valentine's Day - February 14 - a radiation alarm sounded in the vicinity of panel 7, where waste was being stored. Workers were quickly sequestered in one of the buildings and tested for contamination. Officials at WIPP informed nearby residents and the city of Carlsbad, 26 miles west, that it was probably just naturally occurring radon. DoE shut down the facility when plutonium and americium were detected offsite by New Mexico's CEMRC [Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center]. The facility will remain closed for three more weeks at least, according to the Department of Energy, though they are hoping to get into the underground to investigate the cause of the release soon thereafter.
Officials are now considering a ceiling collapse in one of the storage rooms to be a likely culprit. Such a collapse could have crushed one or more drums containing the high level waste. The facility does have HEPA filtration on its exhaust system, but they do not stop all contamination - just most of it. Alpha and beta particles are not pure energy like x-rays or gamma radiation, but are serious internal contamination hazards. Just a tiny amount of plutonium is known to cause cancer if lodged in lung tissue, bone or liver, and the rest of the actinides are no slouches when it comes to deadly effects in relatively minor amounts either.
This is what the DoE had to say about that danger in a press release attempting to ease the public's concern about the release...
The DOE also found through dose assessment modeline, which calculates potential radioactivity exposure to people, that humans have a potential of less than one millirem of exposure to radiation from the Feb. 14 leak. A person receives about 10 millirem from a chest X-ray procedure.Notice the same old same conflation of exterior gamma dose with internal deposition of transuranic alpha-emitters like plutonium and americium. It's a standard deception in the black bag of nuclear lies and half-truths, even older than the banana scam. Fortunately, in the very nearly three years since the Fukushima disaster, members of the public have been educating themselves about radiation exposure hazards, so not that many people paying attention are so easily fooled these days.
DoE officials held an open meeting for the public in Carlsbad earlier this evening. I'll be interested to see reports tomorrow on the questions and answers as well as the mood of WIPP's reluctant neighbors.
Okay, meeting in Carlsbad held, "not totally reassuring."
So now, for my questions to DoE about their strange behavior of attempting to pretend they aren't dumping gnarly alpha/beta emitters on the citizens of southeastern New Mexico...
First, they said it was just an atmospheric radon spike, nothing from WIPP. Which of course it wasn't. No one's been down in the mine since a salt truck fire caused total evacuation on February 7th. So they don't know what happened in section 7 to set off the alarm, or how much gnarl has been released to go out the stack. They had to back off that lie when CEMRC detected plutonium and americium off-site.
1. DoE says what got released somehow managed to get released before the stack HEPA filters somehow started to work. That's bull, the filters are always on duty, it's just that .03% of what they're designed to filter gets out anyway. So what is being detected off-site must have come from that .03%. How large is the release really? The levels detected by the alarmed detector should give a fair indication...
2. Since we know what got out must be the .03% of the release that escapes filtration, must we assume that the release is ongoing and will be ongoing until/unless they can get in there and clean it up? Is the closure time for 'flushing' the air? And if the air is being 'flushed', doesn't that mean releases are constant?
3. If the release of these very deadly isotopes is ongoing, why are the citizens not being told to shelter in place, and taught the ways they can minimize air exchange so as to keep their homes/offices clear of these very deadly isotopes?
4. Why is DoE deliberately likening airborne plutonium/americium (plus whatever other gnarl) to x-ray exposures? Alpha/beta particles are NOT external hazard gamma rays.
5. If it's just alpha/beta emitters, why close the facility for a month rather than send some well-suited (with air supply) hps and engineers down the hole to see what's up? We are told there can be no significant gamma or neutrons, so as long as the workers are covered and not breathing the air, it shouldn't be an issue.
Not that I expect DoE will ever answer those. If the x-ray lie doesn't work, they'll immediately revert to the banana dance. ...oops. Too late. Sigh.