Dec 23 The United States' only permanent nuclear
waste disposal site got the go-ahead on Friday to resume
operations nearly three years after a radiation leak shut down
the New Mexico facility.
The U.S. Department of Energy said in a statement that
disposal of nuclear waste at the site near Carlsbad could begin
again as early as next month, following two safety reviews and
The announcement came one day after New Mexico state
officials said they had given their approval for operations at
the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) to resume.
The site in southeastern New Mexico was shut down
indefinitely in February 2014, when a barrel of
plutonium-contaminated debris entombed half a mile beneath the
desert floor ruptured, spewing radiation that leaked to the
The accident, in which 22 workers were exposed, was the
facility's worst mishap since it opened in 1999.
"Tremendous credit should go to the WIPP workers for what we
have accomplished this year," Phil Breidenbach, president and
project manager for Nuclear Waste Partnership, which operates
the site under a federal contract, said in the Friday statement.
The site was built for the disposal of radioactive refuse
generated for decades by the Department of Energy's network of
nuclear weapons laboratories and development facilities.
Department of Energy inspectors identified 21 issues that
need to be resolved before the site could reopen. On Friday, the
agency confirmed that the corrections at the site were made.
Federal investigators who examined the 2014 accident cited
chronic lapses in safety procedures that led to chemically
incompatible materials, including organic kitty litter used as
an absorbent, being packaged together in one of the waste drums
sent to the disposal site from the Los Alamos National
The mix of organic material and nitrate salts inside the
barrel sparked a chemical reaction, causing a buildup of heat
and gases that breached the container, the Department of Energy
said in a report.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by