It’s been more than a month since a radiation leak was discovered underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the nation’s only permanent nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad.
Initially, 13 workers tested positive for internal radiation. Now that number is up to 17. Four days after the leak, radiation was found in an air filter a half-mile away. While the Department of Energy (DOE) says that the levels of radiation are below “actionable” levels, actionable and safe are not the same thing – especially when it comes to radioactive plutonium and americium.
New Mexicans have asked questions at three town hall meetings, but received few answers.
There have been a variety of efforts to expand the mission of WIPP to receive other, potentially more dangerous, forms of waste. If proponents of this type of expansion had succeeded, this leak would have been a whole lot worse.
The WIPP leak is unfortunate to say the least, but we’re hoping this incident will help shine a light on an issue that continues to affect New Mexicans. It’s clear that many have their head in the sand about what the real costs are of the life cycle of nuclear energy. New Mexico deals with the negative health and environmental impacts of mining uranium to permanently storing nuclear waste.
Here are only a few of the questions New Mexicans deserve answers to: What caused the release? How much cancer-causing plutonium was released? When will WIPP workers be safe returning to work underground? What decontamination on the surface and underground will be done? And perhaps most important, what will be done to prevent this sort of disaster from happening again?
The DOE has not provided the answers to any of these questions. Why not? At a press conference soon after the disaster, the DOE only allowed one question per reporter. When a nuclear waste facility that was “never going to leak” leaks, the people deserve answers. The 17 WIPP workers and their families deserve answers. Tell the DOE that you’re waiting for them to give us the answers we deserve.>>
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