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Draft permit pulled for WIPP

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SANTA FE – New Mexico regulators have withdrawn a preliminary permit for an expansion of the federal government’s troubled nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico.

Citing recent back-to-back incidents that included a radiation release that contaminated 17 workers, the New Mexico Environment Department on Friday notified the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant that it has withdrawn a pending draft permit.

“NMED cannot move forward on the WIPP’s request to open additional underground storage panels and for the other requested permit modifications until more information is known about the recent events at the WIPP,” Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said in a statement. “Just as NMED needs more information to make informed decisions on permit modifications, the public also needs more information about the radiation release in order to provide informed input during the public comment period. Once NMED has all of our questions answered, we will proceed with consideration of a revised draft permit.”

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is the nation’s only permanent underground repository for low-level radioactive waste, including things like plutonium-contaminated gloves, tools and protective clothing, from nuclear weapons facilities. The plant near Carlsbad stopped taking all waste shipments after a Feb. 5 underground truck fire. Nine days later, a radiation release shut the plant.

Officials have yet to get underground to figure out what caused the radiation release. A series of shortcomings in maintenance safety training, emergency response and oversight was cited by a team that investigated the truck fire.

It is unclear, however, whether the fire and leak are related.

No one has been inside the half-mile-deep repository since the leak to begin an investigation or make estimates on how long the plant might be shut for cleanup.

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