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Reader View: WIPP — a molehill made into a mountain

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Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2014 7:00 pm

Late evening, Valentine’s Day: An air monitor (CAM) alarms inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad. Eleven workers are above ground at the time; two more report later. Fecal samples from these 13 people show very low levels of 239Pu and 241Am. Nine other workers test positive for low levels of these materials.

Several days later, the oversight organization, Community Radiation Monitoring Group, reports measuring low levels of Pu and Am in air monitors outside the plant boundary. All measured air, soil, water levels and body burdens are far below regulatory limits. WIPP stores low-level waste from U.S. nuclear weapons production facilities in panels in an old salt mine 2,100 feet below the surface. Such waste is largely protective clothing, gloves, tools, etc. from U.S. nuclear weapons facilities. As a graduate student, I worked five years in a Morton Salt Co. mine under Lake Erie; I learned much about the nature of salt.

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