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Reactions to the DOE getting fined

CARLSBAD — An abnormal odor was detected Thursday by four waste handling technicians at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, according to an update released Tuesday.

The workers were performing surface temperature measurements on the transuranic waste containers when they began smelling a “cleaner-like scent,” a WIPP update said.

This odor detection occurred two days before it was made public that the Department of Energy was fined over $54 million after multiple investigation reports were released showing that the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the WIPP had been in violation of multiple permits.

“This is why they need to be total transparent when these things happened,” said John Heaton, chairman of the Carlsbad mayor’s nuclear task force.

The odor was described to be like a cleaning solution that was similar to what has been detected before when opening shipping containers during routine waste operations at WIPP.

The release said that workers stopped work and notified their supervisors before leaving the area.

After testing the area it was determined that no abnormal radiological or chemical conditions were detected, but periodic surveillance of the area and the workers, who briefly complained of nausea and dizziness, will be performed, the release said.

Related: WIPP officials focus on safety

When asked about the fines, WIPP officials were unable to give updates or comment about the current situation.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said in a news conference Tuesday that he stood by the state’s decision to fine the Department of Energy.

“WIPP and LANL are a vital part of New Mexico’s economy and our national security, and with such high stakes, there is no room for error or denial. I am very disappointed with what’s happened,” Udall said.

Udall went on to say that the fines should not come out of any DOE cleanup activities, and that those responsible for these mistakes should not be given any bonuses or rewards.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich also agreed that the fines were necessary and that the fines should not put any cleanup activities at risk.

“Collaboration between the Department of Energy, regulators, WIPP and the community will be critical. The safety and health of our workers and community is of the utmost importance,” Heinrich said in a news release.

On Tuesday, the Department of Energy did not add any information to Saturday’s statement.

“The Department of Energy and its contractors self-identified and self-disclosed non-compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to the New Mexico Environment Department,” a Department of Energy spokesman said Saturday. “We continue to actively address these issues and are firmly committed to the safe, compliant and effective remediation of all our legacy wastes and to recovering Waste Isolation Pilot Plant operations as safely and expeditiously as possible.”

Investigators are still looking into what led to the radiation release at WIPP. The findings will decide whether more penalties or actions are necessary, state officials have said.


Sarah Matott can be reached at 575-628-5546.

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