ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Latest on the reopening of the federal government’s nuclear waste repository in New Mexico (all times local):
A top U.S. Energy Department official in southern New Mexico says the agency plans to close off part of the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository due to contamination and stability concerns.
Carlsbad Field Office manager Todd Shrader said during a public meeting Thursday that officials are considering plans to close the south end of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in phases.
He says barriers would be built to seal off the area from other parts of the underground complex, eliminating about 60 percent of the areas that were contaminated by a February 2014 radiation release.
Three ceiling collapses have also been reported in the south end in recent weeks, prompting concerns about worker safety and the ability of the plant to reopen before the end of the year.
Shrader acknowledged that the closure plan would eliminate some of the space that could have been used in the future for more waste storage rooms.
Federal officials and contractors say they’re regularly monitoring conditions inside the government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico to ensure worker safety as they prepare to reopen the facility.
They updated the public Thursday on a series of ceiling collapses in restricted corridors of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
No injuries were reported, but officials acknowledged that a radiation release that forced the plant’s closure in February 2014 also made maintenance meant to stabilize the facility’s walls and ceilings more difficult.
Underground operations manager John Vandekraats says workers now have to wear special protective clothing and carry additional equipment to gauge air quality and radiological contamination.
He estimated the crews’ productivity in bolting and stabilizing the walls and ceilings has been reduced by more than half given the conditions over the last two years.
A series of recent ceiling collapses at the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository has watchdogs calling on officials to ensure safety before moving ahead with a planned reopening later this year.
U.S. Energy Department officials and the contractor that manages the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico will update the public on the collapses during a meeting Thursday evening.
A radiation release forced the closure of the repository in February 2014.
Since then, shipments of waste from federal facilities around the country have been on hold.
The waste is meant to be entombed in storage rooms carved out of a salt formation deep underground.
Contamination and limited ventilation has made maintenance of the walls and ceilings difficult.
Officials have reported three collapses in recent weeks.