Workers evacuated from area of Carlsbad nuclear waste repository after 'abnormal event'

Workers evacuated from area of Carlsbad nuclear waste repository after 'abnormal event'
Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus, Sunday, April 10, 2022
An incident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad led to the evacuation of workers Saturday night from an area of the facility where waste is prepared for disposal.

The incident was reported at about 8:20 p.m. in the waste handling building.

As a drum of waste was being processed, liquid was found at the bottom of the container which tested positive for radioactive contamination, per a news release from WIPP officials. 

All personnel in the area were evacuated and tested for contamination, and operations were temporarily paused. 

No radioactive contamination was found on any person or in the air as of 10 p.m., per the news release. 

Workers were not in the underground at the time of the incident, the release read. 

No radiation was released from the site, and there was no risk to the public, read the news release. 

WIPP’s Emergency Operations Center and Joint Information Center were activated at the Skeen-Whitlock building in Carlsbad to respond to the incident that occurred at the facility east of Carlsbad near the border of Eddy and Lea counties.

“The activation occurred as a result of an abnormal event during routine waste handling at the WIPP site, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico,” read the release.

The public was encouraged to follow WIPP on Twitter or Facebook for updates as the incident is investigated.

Waste handling activities at WIPP involve moving nuclear waste into the facility and transporting it about 2,000 feet underground for permanent disposal in an underground salt deposit.

The waste disposed of at WIPP is classified as transuranic (TRU) waste – clothes and equipment irradiated during nuclear activities at U.S. Department of Energy sites throughout the country.

The last major incident at WIPP occurred in 2014, when an incorrectly-packaged drum of waste shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico ruptured due to a chemical reaction.

The resulting radiation release contaminated parts of the WIPP underground and led to a three-year shutdown of the facility’s primary operations: waste disposal and mining.

The site reopened and began accepting waste again in 2017, with some areas of the underground remaining restricted and requiring workers to wear breathing apparatuses when entering.

This story will be updated as more information is made available.

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter