Continuing radioactive releases from WIPP.

The Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC) has conducted radiological analyses of filters from WIPP, for the period at and a week after the Feb. 14 plutonium release.

These filters consist of 47mm diameter, one micron pore size, paper filters that sample the air exiting the WIPP repository exhaust shaft at Station A (before air goes through HEPA filtration) and at Station B (after air goes through HEPA filtration). As stated by DOE officials, in the event of a radioactive detection in the underground, the ventilation system lowers the fan speed and automatically shifts to a “filtration” mode; whereby all of the exhaust shaft effluent passes through a large bank of High Efficiency Particulate Absorption (HEPA) filters designed to remove 99.97% of all radioactive particles from the air before exiting into the environment…

Additionally, it deserves noting that the engineered safety systems in place within the WIPP facility (i.e. HEPA filtration system) reduced the amount of 241Am exiting the exhaust ventilation system by 754 times and the amount of 239+240Pu by nearly 3,000 times. Lastly, it is also evident that in the days following the event, the levels of radioactivity both within the repository (pre-HEPA) and what was ultimately released (post-HEPA), have decreased considerably and appear to have stabilized at significantly reduced levels.

There were supposedly no workers underground at the time of the release, so the 13 workers who did test positive for americium and plutonium were exposed to levels corresponding to Station B.

If you look at the Station B section, under the column “241Am Bq/m3”, you will see 1.81 becquerels of americium-241 were found in this filter on Feb. 18. Subsequent days have much lower readings, as noted. But if you take the average of the subsequent days, you will find that WIPP is still releasing the same quantity of Am-241 every 13 days.

So according to this data, we are getting WIPPed every two weeks or so. Perhaps the levels have dropped further since then, but we don’t know that for sure.

This article by Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) has some good information.

As of March 4, there is much more that is unknown than known:
* What caused the leak?
* How much leaked into the underground salt mine?
* How much leaked into the environment?
* Where are those radioactive and toxic wastes now?
* To what amount of radiation were the workers exposed?
* What are the health effects for those workers?
* What decontamination is necessary in the underground mine?
* What decontamination is necessary on the WIPP site and surrounding area?
* If WIPP reopens, what changes in the operation, monitoring, and safety culture will be implemented?…

But it is likely that for at least some of the questions, precise information will never be available. For example, how much leaked into the environment may be only approximately determined. Although computer air dispersion models will be used to estimate the amount released, where those contaminants are is unknowable, since the wind can widely disperse the particles of plutonium (Pu)-239 and americium (Am)-241 that were detected. What precise health effects will occur in workers and others is also unknowable. But health dangers exist for a very long time, since Am-241 has a half-life of 432 years (half of the current radioactivity will be present in that many years), and Pu-239 has more than a 24,000-year half-life.

Multiply the half-life by 10 to get the approximate time that these leaked isotopes will be dangerous. For americium, it is 4,320 years. For plutonium, it is 240,000 years.

On February 26, the 13 WIPP employees who had been on the surface when the radiation was detected were notified that they tested positive for internal radiological contamination, “predominantly americium-241.” These workers will have additional bioassay (urine and fecal) analyses conducted. On Thursday, February 27, Farok Sharif, Nuclear Waste Partnership President, stated that other workers who came onsite on February 15 are having bioassay testing, and some additional workers are requesting to be tested. All workers who want to be tested will be tested. All workers who want to have lung and whole body counts at CEMRC also will be allowed to do so. Laboratory analysis of bioassay samples takes one to two weeks. Sharif also stated that no workers have received chelating drugs that could help excrete the internal contamination.

The 13 workers that were tested were a small fraction of those who may have been exposed. More workers want to be tested, but we haven’t heard of these results as yet. The workers were denied chelating drugs that would have helped excrete the plutonium. These should be administered within 24 hours. No matter, according to the Department of Energy, and its contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership. They say all the americium and plutonium went away from the workers’ bodies. I haven’t heard that one since the government said that all the oil in the Gulf of Mexico suddenly went away after the BP oil spill.

From Enenews:

WIPP radiation leak was never supposed to happen — No one knows yet how or why a waste drum leaked […] setting off a cascade of events that could cripple the nation’s radioactive waste disposal system. […] before WIPP opened, the [DOE] put the risk of such an accident at one chance in 10,000 to one in 1 million during any given year of WIPP operations […] only two possible scenarios […] an exploding waste drum or a waste disposal room roof collapse. […] “You could have crapped up a whole lot of real estate down there,” [Bob Neill, a radiation safety expert] said. The underground drum fire scenario […] hypothesized the “spontaneous combustion” of a drum’s contents, rupturing and spreading the radioactive waste inside [a] one chance in 10,000 in any given year of WIPP operations. The “roof fall” scenario […] was calculated at one chance in a million during a given year [and] could leave a large number of waste drums crushed and leaking. […] Cleaning up contamination [would] risk of further spreading the contamination. […] In a formal legal notice, the New Mexico Environment Department said, “It is believed … that the WIPP will be unable to resume normal activities for a protracted period of time.”…

Container Fire — Contents of a drum in an underground disposal room spontaneously combusts prior to panel closure.
Roof Fall — A portion of a disposal room roof falls prior to panel closure, crushing drums and causing container breaches.

There are 100 oil wells within a mile of WIPP. Pumping oil out of the ground could cause subsidence, which could lead to a roof collapse, and the subsequent breaking of drums. Plutonium is dangerous for 240,000 years. But making a quick buck is more important.

The containers could burst open and leak or born also. Gases build up inside the drums. From this study of TRU waste drums in Los Alamos, headed for WIPP, a significant percentage of containers have too much hydrogen or pressure:

As of October, 1997, hydrogen concentrations measured by the DVS were obtained for 323 drums, from a total of approximately 2500 vented drums. Concentrations measured during drum venting have been as high as 23.97%. In one instance when EM&R/HazMat was called to remotely vent a visibly bulging drum, subsequent analysis of the headspace gas revealed a hydrogen concentration of 27.89%.

Hydrogen is, of course, explosive. Who knows how long it takes to build up hydrogen in the drums? This might be a continuing problem for thousands of years. Another study discusses the possibility of gas-driven hydrofractures occurring at WIPP:

Modeling and experiments performed by Sandia National Laboratories show that gas caused by the anoxic corrosion of iron and by biodegradation of organic materials will be generated within the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). A potential exists for several tens of million cubic meters (at atmospheric pressure and 30oC) of gas to be generated. A review of the WIPP Compliance Certification Application (CCA) calculations and associated literature has revealed inadequate consideration of gas-driven hydrofracture. This paper presents the results of both laboratory modeling and mathematical analysis of gas-driven hydrofracture at WIPP, with emphasis upon the behavior of a vertical hydrofracture. The results show that unless special care is taken to preclude the generation of gas or to properly vent gas, a gas-driven hydrofracture is likely. Our physical modeling reveals the development of both horizontally- and vertically oriented circular hydrofractures, even within a horizontally stratified solid. The behavior of a vertical hydrofracture is considered in this paper. It is shown that a vertical hydrofracture would be incapable of containing the gas volumes predicted.

And the waste at WIPP is not limited to americium and plutonium. The tables below (link) show a list of radionuclides in waste headed for WIPP. Cesium-137 and strontium-90 are well represented in here. Many of these nuclides are in gas or vapor form and exist as dissolved gases with the waste. These include tritium, carbon-14, radon-222, iodine-129 and others. The HEPA filters at WIPP only remove particles. They do not remove gases. Charcoal filters are needed to remove gases. Gas emissions continue unfiltered at WIPP.

31 thoughts on “Continuing radioactive releases from WIPP.

  1. a witness on enenews said he saw trucks with 3 large barrels with one smoking. several times. the big barrels are vented. great for public highways, anyone downwind gets to breath radiation. not much talk about that.

  2. Bobby, this may be a dumb question, but it’s been on my mind. If (and that is an if) the HEPA filters are filtering the ventilation shafts, what is being done for the huge mine entrances and exits that the machines and work forces used? Are these large entrances open, is there a way to close them, and, if so, are they protected by metal? Do you happen to know?

    • I don’t know, Weez. You would think there would be doors, that’s common sense. But we shouldn’t assume the nuclear industry has that.

  3. I just read on Enenews that even though the authorities are saying the mine is sealed, the four air shafts are not because there is no way to seal them. I wonder if the “air shafts” are the huge entrances to the mine that I saw on the news. If so, no itty-bitty HEPA filters are going to do any good.

  4. Here we go… a drop at a time…

    “contamination drifted across the countryside and 26 miles west, all the way to the city of Carlsbad itself [10th most populated city in New Mexico]. Nuclear experts told residents, worried about children, the WIPP contamination now confirmed to have reached town is not dangerous. ”Below any limit, just above background, and would result in no health potential to a child, or a fetus,” Fran Williams, URS technical advisor said.”

    So plutonium is OK for a fetus huh? THANK YOU, LORD, FOR CREATING HELL.

  5. Quote: “Anonymous said…

    Areva,

    You had mentioned here that Tepco had noted test well levels at Daiichi respond to ocean tides?

    Check this out for Southern New Mexico, WIPP area.

    “In Southern New Mexico, rain showers are often small and impact only a few square miles. Further, he said, water levels in wells respond to barometric pressure. “When a front comes through, barometric pressure goes up or down, and your water level responds to that as well.” It can cause a four- or five-inch change in water level “that has nothing to do with anything except barometric pressure.”

    http://alibi.com/news/28409/WIPP-Tides.html
    March 5, 2014 at 9:50 AM ”

    quoted from: http://ex-skf.blogspot.com/2014/03/ot-anatole-kaletsky-realpolitik-in.html?showComment=1394041843376#c6951987901322572515

    Quote: “WIPP Tides
    Geologist points to holes in the thinking—and the landscape—around waste burial in Southern New Mexico
    By Marisa Demarco”
    from News/Opinion – dated July 9-15, 2009
    “For years, Richard Hayes Phillips has carried in his mind awful visions of what it would be like to see the Pecos River contaminated with radioactive material. “People fish there, and it flows into the Rio Grande at Amistad Reservoir, which is actually the Spanish word for ‘friendship,’ ” he says.

    He’s envisioning a day when the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant—the waste burial ground 26 miles east of Carlsbad—breaches. Above WIPP are cavernous groundwater aquifers. Below it are brine reservoirs so pressurized that the saltwater gushes to the land’s surface every time they’re punctured by drillers, Phillips says. And underneath it all, oil and gas fields wait to be harvested. A thousand drill holes pepper the landscape. “All the geologic mechanisms necessary for a catastrophic breach are there,” he says.

    Imagine a drill disturbing any part of the WIPP site, the contamination seeping into those groundwater aquifers, maybe forced by pressurized brine pockets beneath. Here’s the point of contention: Sandia Labs says those aquifers are confined by impermeable rocks above and below. Phillips, a geologist, says a report he submitted in March proves those aquifers respond to heavy rainfall, which means they aren’t isolated and could carry contaminated water rapidly to the environment. “The WIPP site is not suitable for long-term waste isolation,” he says. Putting it there was a mistake, he adds, and the area should have never been certified for radioactive waste disposal.”

  6. The repository ventilation and air filtering and monitoring systems have been in operation for over 30 years in a very harsh environment — much harsher than most underground mines. There have been recent problems with the underground air monitoring system dating back to 2010 that indicate that age may be catching up to the infrastructure.

    The reliability of the room and panel closure systems is also in question since one likely source of the releases of radioactivity into the environment is a result of a ceiling collapse in one of the filled panels that ruptured one or more waste packages.

    http://www.abqjournal.com/366687/opinion/wipp-vulnerable-recent-leak-shows.html

  7. ALERT! A 2nd Plutonium Spike Has Occurred At WIPP

    While the 2/23/14 Plutonium spike appears much less than the Valentine’s day spike, the important factor of note is that the process which caused the Valentine’s day explosion is still ongoing. It should also be noted the CEMRC suspiciously changed their sampling reporting style concurrent with this new event in such a manner that the change served to obfuscate the obviousness of the spike.

    CEMRC switched their reporting to a daily aggregate of filter samples with data starting 2/22/14. Aggregate reporting serves to peanut butter out large radioactive volumetric spike rates which occurred during a short time period into a greatly reduced spike smoothed out over a larger time period. Even with that distortion, the 2/23 spike was at least 400% greater than the previous days.

    http://pissinontheroses.blogspot.com/2014/03/alert-2nd-plutonium-spike-has-occurred.html

    • Yes, this is significant not just because of an increased release of plutonium and americium, but more importantly, there is still something going on down there. This shows that the WIPP event is not just a one-shot release.

      Whether it means additional roof failures, or further breaches in the drums containing nuclear waste, is still unknown.

  8. WIPP Filters were 50% past their maximum expiration date per US Law
    Former director Conca confirmed that these are the original filters, making them either 15 or 20 years old.

    But this DOE design book, states clearly that filters will normally have a 5 year life, and NEVER allowed to be used over 10 years. I see….all about that culture of safety….sure put up some big safety signs, and have a feel good moment.

    http://nukeprofessional.blogspot.fr/2014/03/wipp-filters-were-50-past-their-maximum.html

    • If that is the very best solution to the unclear “nukular” nuclear wastes problem that the “best and brightest” can come up with or be aloud to come up with, we (even upwind) are ever so screwed.

      At the very minimum, it would seem present surviving cigarette smokers have one more very-important reason to break the habit.

      “Hot particle avoidance” – the latest ‘dance craze!

  9. Nah,…THIS is the best THEY can come up with!

    I am SHOCKED no one else is rolling over on THIS one!

    “take your helmet off so you don’t suffocate, it’s better you breathe in radioactive isotopes and die later (sooner than you should) than today of asphyxiation….”

    http://enenews.com/radiation-leaks-could-still-be-occurring-at-wipp-locals-worried-since-no-one-knows-anything-workers-to-use-military-like-tactics-rescue-team-is-ready-to-risk-everything-event

    “take your helmet off so you don’t suffocate, it’s better you breathe in radioactive isotopes and die later (sooner than you should) than today of asphyxiation….”

    You SIMPLY can not make this shit up!

  10. I hung on that phrase too.
    Remembering the “high-tech’ Navy suit used in “The Abyss”, utilizing direct aspiration of an oxygen-bearing fluid.
    Compared to that, it is only the individual paycheque that differentiates this lot from amateurs, IMHO.

    Am surprised “plutonauts” are not told something similar to aircraft “emergency landing” procedure; “put your head between your legs (and kiss your arse goodbye while there!)”

    Potential suicide mission, eh? How much does it pay?
    Whose first? What? No volunteers? Where is everybody now?

    • I don’t think anybody should go.
      Insurance doesn’t cover this situation, IIRC.
      Hell, even OSHA would wash their hands of this bullchipery!

      SEND IN THE EXECUTIVES!

  11. New emails reveal concern over plutonium-related nuclear chain reaction in WIPP containers — “There shouldn’t be a ‘significant’ reaction… reactivity of plutonium and criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise” — “Significant amount’ of plutonium” — No mention of kitty litter

    They used Kolorsafe liquid acid neutralizer…

    Section 7. Handling and Storage
    Avoid high heat and/or freezing conditions. Keep container tightly closed. Suitable for general chemical storage under normal warehouse conditions.
    NOTE: If this product is stored at temperatures >150 °F or at elevations above 5000 feet, gas may form, increasing the pressure within the container, causing the container to bulge. If bulging occurs, remove the container from the work area and slowly open the container to release the gas. Be sure to wear proper
    personal protective equipment.

    The video is a demonstration of this product. Imagine them pouring it into plutonium, instead of vinegar.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTs009hypB8

    http://enenews.com/emails-reveal-concern-over-plutonium-related-nuclear-chain-reaction-in-wipp-containers-there-shouldnt-be-significant-reaction-reactivity-of-plutonium-and-criticality-safety-issues-are-no

    http://www.abqjournal.com/407594/news/ingredients-used-in-drums-questioned.html

    http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/NMED/Issues/documents/5.19.14-Combined-ESTransmittalofNeutralizersUsedinNSProcessin….pdf

    http://www.npscorp.com/assets/msds/4100series.pdf

    • They used a product that should not be used in containers at over 5,000 feet elevation, because gas might build up in the container. Los Alamos, where the container (supposedly) originated, is over 7,000 feet elevation.

  12. Increased radiation levels in WIPP underground
    Elevated levels due to recent activity near incident occurred

    Air sampling results from the underground of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant have shown increased levels of radiation at Station A.

    Station A, which is located before WIPP’s high efficiency particulate air filter, recorded increased measurements for both alpha and beta radiation between April 21 and April 24.

    On April 23, the highest measurement of radiation was detected.

    “The increases levels of radiation are because of the increased activities in and around Station A, because they are inside Panel 7,” said Russell Hardy, director for the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center.

    http://www.currentargus.com/carlsbad-news/ci_28111198/increased-radiation-levels-wipp-underground

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