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DOE secretary to hold town hall meet in Carlsbad on WIPP leak

CARLSBAD – Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will host a town hall to address questions, concerns and fears stemming from a February truck fire and subsequent radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant that resulted from the breach of a waste drum from Los Alamos National Laboratory..

Moniz will speak at the Leo Sweet Center on Monday beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Many of Carlsbad’s elected officials said they are grateful for the opportunity to express the community’s support for WIPP.

“We just need to let him know that the community still supports WIPP,” said Carlsbad City Councilor J.R. Doporto. “We had a hiccup and I think we’ll get over it, but we need their help and we need to make sure he (Moniz) understands that.”


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The visit will be Moniz’s first to Carlsbad since President Barack Obama appointed him as secretary for the DOE in May 2013. Prior to the town hall, Moniz will tour WIPP, the nation’s only nuclear waste disposal facility, and meet with officials about the latest underground recovery efforts and financial needs.

Janelle Whitlock, a Carlsbad City Councilor for Ward 4, said she hopes the community takes advantage of the opportunity to hear directly from the cabinet secretary about the recovery efforts and the future of WIPP in Carlsbad.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a DOE Secretary visit Carlsbad and WIPP, and I’m anxious to here what he has to say,” Whitlock said. “We’re interested in the recovery period and of course safety is always important to me.”

Those who cannot make it to the event at the Leo Sweet Center, 1302 Mission Ave., can watch a live stream of the meeting online at

The regularly scheduled WIPP town hall originally set for Thursday evening has been cancelled because of Moniz’s visit next week.

WIPP opened in 1999 and disposes transuranic waste, commonly referred to as “TRU,” into the Permian-age salt bedrock 2,150 feet below grou n d. Most of the waste WIPP receives is primarily low-level, solid materials such as discarded tools and cloths used in the manufacturing of Cold War-era nuclear weapons.

A truck used to haul salt below ground in the north mine caught fire on Feb. 5, forcing immediate evacuations of all workers to the surface. Six employees were treated for smoke inhalation at Carlsbad Medical Center and discharged the same day.

On the evening of Feb. 14, a radiation leak was detected below ground in WIPP’s south mine.

An unknown chemical reaction caused an explosion inside of a waste drum packaged and shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Trace amounts of americium and plutonium were detected about a half mile outside of the facility in the outside air.