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NMSU professor shares study of samples taken at WIPP

By: Jamel Valencia and Associated Press
CARLSBAD, N.M. - A professor who studies chemical levels at the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center at NMSU tested samples taken from the area near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

In February, 13 workers who were at the plant when a radiation leak happened were exposed to radioactive material.

Dr. Russell Hardy shared with KFOX14 the results from the study he conducted two days after the leak at the nuclear waste dump.

The sampler located half a mile away [northwest of the facility] showed a minor amount of americium and plutonium that are stored at WIPP.

Hardy explained that the two manmade radioactive materials are particles that fall out quickly within a 10 to 15 mile radius.

Since Feb. 14, everything weve detected is below any environmental and public concern, said Hardy.

Many residents in the Borderland became concerned Monday when an article published by www.politicalears.com stated the leak at the plant had prompted evacuations in the region.

Hardy believes inaccurate information like that reported on politicalears.com comes from people who are misinformed.

Some people dont understand the information that is out there. Theyre jumping into wild conclusions and taking it out of context, he said. Secondly, I think there are a lot of people who have negative perceptions of nuclear energy that are using this as a platform to further their agenda.

The latest sample filter taken on Feb. 25 showed a decrease of radioactive material near the site. According to Hardy, the levels went down 65 times during an 11-day period.

Hardy says officials of the Department of Energy took the results taken from a half-mile northwest of the plant and took the worse-case scenario.

If someone was standing there at midnight when this material got out and ingested or inhaled all of the material all at once, it would be the equivalent of flying in an airplane for three to five hours and it would be less than what you would get from a chest X-ray at a hospital.
New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich called a report released Friday by the DOE "deeply concerning."

"Fortunately, no one was hurt," the Democrats said in a joint statement. "The community of Carlsbad and the nation expect WIPP to operate with the highest level of safety. The board has identified a number of serious safety concerns that will need to be fully addressed. We believe all levels of management at the Department of Energy and at WIPP must take the recommendations from the board very seriously and fully implement them. "

Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican whose district includes the plant, applauded the DOE for a transparent report that highlights "the sloppy procedures that caused the fire."

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 if the fire and the radiation release are related. The mine has been shuttered since the Feb. 14 release, but investigators hope to be able to get below next week to see what happened.

The accidents are the first major incidents at the repository, which began taking radioactive waste 15 years ago.

Link to the DOE report: http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/03/f11/Final WIPP Underground Fire Report 03.13.2014.pdf

WIPP releases statement after inaccurate report regarding evacuations.