(CARLSBAD, N.M.) — An investigation board looking into a February accident at a U.S. nuclear waste dump found the incident was caused in part by “failure to fully understand, characterize, and control the radiological hazard,” as well as maintenance and poor management.
The radiation leak resulted in the contamination of 21 workers who tested positive for low-level radiation exposure at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad, N.M. The 300-page report from Energy Department investigators released Thursday slammed federal staff and outside contractors responsible for operating and overseeing the facility.
WIPP is the only nuclear waste dump in the United States. Prior to the incident, there were hopes to expand the facility’s mission to take high-level waste from the nation’s nuclear weapons program. Operations at the plant have since been shut down.
“The cumulative effect of inadequacies in ventilation system design and operability compounded by degradation of key safety management programs and safety culture resulted in the release of radioactive material,” the report reads.
The source of the leak remains undetermined as crews work to examine the area.
In a daily briefing Thursday, management of the facility responded to the findings, saying they have started implementing “corrective actions” to address issues in the report.
The Department of Energy has begun evaluating additional permanent staffing needs in reponse to oversight problems, and more emergency training and drills have been conducted. New leadership has also been put into place.
“These actions are just the first step,” a statement from WIPP reads. “The federal and contractor management teams are closely reviewing the report and will address all of the findings.”
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