WIPP employee found dead on the job

A 62-year-old employee was found dead Sunday at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico.

Robert Staffel, an employee at the nuclear waste repository’s quality assurance department, was found unresponsive by emergency response personnel around 8 p.m. after family members alerted staff that they had tried to reach him by phone, according to a spokesman for contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership.

NWP spokesman Donavan Mager said in an emailed statement that the Eddy County Sheriff’s Office and state medical examiner responded to the site and an investigation is ongoing.

Staffel is believed to have died of natural causes, he said.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Staffel family during this extremely difficult time,” said Phil Breidenbach, NWP president and project manager. “We will continue to support the investigation into Mr. Staffel’s death.”

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Emergency responders who were dispatched to WIPP on Sunday night encountered icy roads and difficult driving conditions, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News. WIPP is 23 miles outside Carlsbad, where about 15 inches of snow fell over the weekend.

WIPP is a deep underground repository for certain types of defense nuclear waste. The facility has been closed since February 2014 to waste emplacement due to a radiological release.

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