Carlsbad, NM, United States (4E) – New air tests at and around an underground nuclear waste facility in New Mexico that leaked radiation on Feb. 14 showed “slightly elevated” levels of airborne radioactivity that pose no public and environment hazard, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
The agency said in a press release on Monday that the radiation dose in air samples collected last week by numerous air monitoring stations at and around the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad was less than one millirem per station. That level is about a tenth the amount of radiation a person would receive from a chest X-ray, the DOE said.
“The average person living in the United States receives an annual dose of about 620 millirems from exposure to naturally occurring and other sources of radiation,” it said.
Some 300 residents of Carlsbad were also assured by authorities that the levels of radiation that escaped from WIPP’s underground into the outside air was safe during a town hall meeting at the Pecos River Village Conference Center on Monday.
“Everything is looking good and safe. There is no indication at all to say that we have any issues,” Farok Sharif, president of the Nuclear Waste Partnership that runs the plant, told the residents, according to Current Argus.
A lab monitoring radiation levels at WIPP detected higher than usual levels of airborne radiation in an isolated area below ground on Feb. 14 triggering an alarm and forcing the plant to close off air filtered by the facility to the outside for the first time since it began accepting waste in 1999.
The facility’s ventilation system, which monitors air quality, automatically switched to “filtration mode” when the leak was discovered, according to DOE spokesman Gregory Sahd.
No employees were underground so no one was exposed to radiation but they were quarantined and tested before allowed to go home, Sahd said.
The WIPP has rooms mined out of an ancient salt formation 2,150 feet below the ground. Radioactively contaminated clothing, tools, equipment, sludge, soil or other materials from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and other government nuclear sites is disposed in the said rooms.