(NaturalNews) It is still a mystery why a 55-gallon drum containing nuclear waste exploded in mid-February at the government's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. But new reports indicate that, following the explosion, a large mass of what witnesses say looked like a cloud of whipped cream traveled up a ventilation duct and spewed into the air, exposing at least 21 workers to deadly plutonium.
The media claims that the amount of plutonium in the mass was minimal, containing less radioactivity than what an average person is exposed to from space radiation hitting the earth. But if this was the case, the plant would not still be closed, say some experts. According to the Los Angeles Times, the plant, located near Carlsbad, has been shuttered for several months without explanation, leaving many questioning what is taking place.
WIPP was originally designed with special filters meant to capture any radioactive material and prevent it from reaching the surface. But the dampers holding these filters apparently leaked, allowing thousands of cubic feet of contaminated air to bypass them and release into the atmosphere. Despite knowing that this occurred, the Department of Energy (DoE) failed to conduct any radiation tests and instead claimed that the situation was under control.
But it is now known that the situation was much more serious than the public was led to believe. Not only was the radiation leak more severe than reports indicated, but the possibility of other drums exploding is also a very real possibility. The LA Times says many other drums containing the same material are currently stored at WIPP, and nuclear chemists are still trying to figure out what went wrong.
One former WIPP worker told the media that the situation is a "horrific comedy of errors," and that the long-term ramifications of the release will be "huge." Others are also warning that subsequent explosions could occur, sending radiation to areas far from the plant. Tests conducted following this first explosion already found that radiation had drifted from the plant, suggesting that further spread is likely.
Government refusing to conduct required air safety tests, manipulating existing data
By law, a series of independent air tests was supposed to be conducted at WIPP in the week following the explosion, but Reuters reports that these tests were not actually conducted. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally did conduct tests, it found that the data had been manipulated or changed, presumably to cover up the extent of radioactive contamination.
"A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review of air testing in February and March found discrepancies in recorded times and dates of sample collections, flawed calculation methods, conflicting data and missing documents," explained Reuters. "It also found the facility sometimes said air samples contained no detectable levels of radiation when measurable levels were present."
WIPP officials also tried to claim that none of the workers exposed to radiation were hurt, though many reported having trouble breathing and speaking.
"My brain is just pounding," stated William Utter to KOAT7 Action News. Utter was exposed to fumes from a truck that exploded underground at the plant one week prior to the drum explosion, a scenario that has caused much turmoil within his family. "They're worried all the time, every time something happens or I cough and have to pull over and throw up," he added, referring to symptoms that are classic signs of radiation poisoning.