SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Environment Department on Monday ordered the federal government to submit a plan for securing nuclear waste that may have caused a radiation leak at an underground repository.
The Department of Energy recently zeroed in on waste containers from Los Alamos National Laboratory as a likely source of radiation that leaked from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad in February.
The administrative order requires the DOE to explain by Wednesday how it plans to isolate and treat waste containing both nitrate salts and an absorbent, organic cat litter – a combination that is believed to have set off a hot reaction that melted a container lid and caused other damage inside the deep underground storage facility.
Containers of the waste in question are currently being stored at WIPP, LANL and also at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas, which agreed in the wake of the radiation leak to temporarily hold LANL waste while WIPP is shut down.
The Environment Department will review the DOE plan and either approve it or request modifications.
WIPP has been closed to shipments of nuclear waste since Feb. 5, when a truck caught fire in the underground. The radiation leak, believed to be unrelated to the fire, occurred Feb. 14.