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Fire at nuclear waste facility was 'worst case scenario,' destabilizing radioactive material and blasting radiation into air


Radiation release
(NaturalNews) Despite still not knowing what really caused a fire at a nuclear waste facility in New Mexico in February 2014, workers have been sent underground -- in many instances to the precise location of the radiological event and in clothing not suitable to handle another event should one occur -- to determine what truly took place.

The actions regarding the incident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, have been part of an ongoing saga filled with doubts, reports that are referenced but not fully made public, bizarre speculations and high levels of scrutiny, all of which has led to an indefinite shut-down of the facility as well as New Mexico fining the U.S. Department of Energy $54 million for mishandling nuclear waste.(1)

"We don't know how safe WIPP is, even in the short run of the current underground activities," said Don Hancock, an analyst with the Southwest Research and Information Center, which closely monitors WIPP.(2)

Disaster predicted in documentary decades ago

Interestingly, the fire that occurred was perhaps foreshadowed in a 1989 documentary narrated by Robert Redford which was created to show the effects of nuclear bomb testing and nuclear power, mainly in the New Mexico vicinity. "We now know that 40% of the [WIPP] hazardous waste is combustible," said Redford, "thus posing a more serious and immediate threat." The documentary goes on to explain that wind also comes into play. "The worst case scenario would be if a fire occurs within a breach of a container," he said. "The wind could then carry plutonium particles through the atmosphere, traveling considerable distances."(3,4)

Flash forward to February 14, 2014. The "worst case scenario" described in the documentary unfolded as a fire occurred when a chemical reaction inside a drum caused it to rupture and leak radiation into the air. Temperatures in the underground temperature reached 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, and ultimately, more than 20 workers were exposed to -- as the Energy Department refers to it -- low levels of radiation.(2)

While the common sense principles of combustion, heat and wind in this situation have all the makings for such a disaster, a great deal of speculation as to the cause still remains. "[E]ven a layman can understand that when combustible waste is exposed to high levels of heat, there may be some effect inside the TRUPAC [containers]," said Bruce Throne, a New Mexico State Attorney featured in the documentary.(3,4)

Yet officials are apparently still at a loss as to finding the isolating factor which ultimately caused the fire. Some maintain that the Los Alamos National Laboratory, from which the drum came, used organic cat litter and acid neutralizers which ended up causing the reaction once it was mixed with the acidic nitrate salts in waste. The organic litter theory has since been dismissed, with people questioning why it might have been used in favor of a clay-based kind and others pointing out that a 2012 waste-handling manual may have contained a typo which led to the use of the litter.(2)

Variety of health hazards a reality as search for fire's cause goes on

The debacle goes on.

Hancock cites improper monitoring and inaccurate readings of radiation measurements in the area. He notes that the Energy Department deemed the radiation levels which impacted 20 people as low and unlikely to produce negative consequences. However, Hancock said, "Any amount of radiation is of concern."(2) Additionally, he says that the New Mexico Environment Department, which collected radiation data for an entire decade before the leak, was not monitoring the WIPP exterior when the radiation release took place in February.

He also takes issue with the likelihood that people in the mine might be exposed to potentially cancer-causing volatile organic compounds that the WIPP is not monitoring. WIPP spokeswoman Jill Turner has said that, indeed, monitoring has not been taking place because of expectations to comply with permits which urge workers only return to normal activities once an area is considered safe. But Hancock points out that workers have been entering areas deemed unsafe for several months, therefore exposing themselves to a range of volatile organic compounds that may harm the central nervous system and destroy major internal organs.(2)

"They have no intention of starting to do the volatile organic compound monitoring in the underground at least until January of 2016," Hancock said. "They fully intend to keep sending workers into the underground with no intention of following this requirement. It's in violation of the permit, and the Environment Department should say so."(2)

Sources for this article include:

(1) http://www.inquisitr.com

(2) http://www.santafenewmexican.com

(3) http://enenews.com

(4) https://www.youtube.com

(5) http://science.naturalnews.com
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