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Tests show radioactivity decrease at WIPP

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Test results of air filter samples taken from a New Mexico nuclear waste repository show declining levels of radioactivity, according to the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center.
CEMRC on Wednesday reported an initial sample taken from an exhaust shaft at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant the morning after a radiation leak late Feb. 14 showed “high levels of radioactivity.” The sample was taken from “Station A,” before the air passed through a filtration system designed to remove 99.97 percent of all radioactive particles from the air before it escapes into the environment.
Two other samples taken 24 hours and a week later at “Station A” showed progressively lower levels of radioactivity, CEMRC said.
CEMRC said the “Station A” samples are not indicative of levels of radioactive elements released into the environment.
A sample from a filter installed at “Station B” on Feb. 14 before the radiation event and removed four days later “showed a moderate amount of radioactivity,” CEMRC said. Levels of americium registered at 1.81 Becquerels per cubic meter — a measure of radioactivity — and 0.224 Becquerels per cubic meter of plutonium.
That sample — taken after air passed through a high-performance filtration system that automatically kicked in following the radiation alert — more accurately reflects the total amount of americium and plutonium that may have been released into the environment over the four-day period, CEMRC said.
WIPP continues to investigate the cause of the leak that exposed at least 13 workers to radiation. The facility remains closed to shipments of waste from the country’s nuclear defense test sites.
Radioactive elements released into the air have been deemed below levels considered actionable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
CEMRC, a division of the New Mexico State University College of Engineering, said it continues to test air filter samples and will begin collecting soil and surface water samples around the WIPP facility to monitor the path airborne particles may have taken.

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