“Waste Isolation Pilot” Becomes $2 Billion Waste Dispersal Site

John LaForge

In 1989, the renowned undersea explorer Jacque Cousteau said, “A common denominator in every single nuclear accident – a nuclear plant or on a nuclear submarine – is that before the specialists even know what has happened, they rush to the media saying, ‘There’s no danger to the public.’ They do this before they themselves know what has happened because they are terrified that the public might react violently, either by panic or by revolt.”

 On Feb. 14, 2014 a barrel of plutonium-contaminated waste blew apart deep underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The WIPP experiment was an attempt to discard some plutonium wastes left from 60 years of nuclear weapons production. The uncontrolled explosion spewed plutonium particles throughout the vast, mine-like underground chambers and scattered them all up and down the 2,150-foot deep elevator and ventilations shafts, closing the dumpsite indefinitely. This week the Los Angeles Times reports that it will cost at least $2 billion to repair the damage and to attempt decontamination.

 Ventilation shaft filtration systems failed to keep the contamination underground, and a federal investigation found two dozen violations of safety procedures, yet even 2.5 years later the government doesn’t know why the barrel blew. “And [the $2B] does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned,” the Times reported.

 At WIPP, Cousteau’s ‘common denominator’ kicked in as usual. As the LA Times said: “When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department [DOE] rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations. The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation…”

 Dispersed plutonium-laden dusts were pulled up the deep shafts by the huge ventilation fans on the surface and at least 13 workers on site that day were exposed.

 The DOE now says 13 workers present during the radioactive release “were tested for internal radioactive contamination” (emphasis added) and that “Initial fecal samples measured some radioactivity above normal background levels.” This admission is vanishingly rare and extremely serious for the victims, considering the inability to decontaminate your insides.

 The DOE also says that 140 workers were exposed to radiation the following day (it doesn’t use the word “plutonium” much), and that  “… 22 were notified that their exposure was below the 10 millirem level, which is about the same exposure a person would get from a chest x-ray.”

 Regular readers will recall that for the government to compare internal radiation exposure to X-rays is deliberate, sophisticated disinformation, because X-rays only dose the target with radiation externally. The difference is highly significant. Dr. Chris Busby, of the Low Level Radiation Campaign (llrc.org), says it’s the difference between sitting in front of a warm fire, and popping a hot coal from the fire into your mouth. (The Energy Department, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the National Nuclear Security Administration all use this magician’s trick: getting us to look at the wrong thing.)

 WIPP’s worker exposures were internal or breathed-in exposures, in which hot particles can lodge in tissue or bone and then for long periods of time bombard surrounding cells with deadly radiation.

 The pro-nuke lobby will chant that ‘nobody died at WIPP’ because of the 2014 disaster. But radiation shortens lives and causes dozens of debilitating diseases and disorders short of death including nose bleeds, bleeding gums, joint pain, hair loss, liver disorders, elevated blood pressure, gastro intestinal problems, muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, skin rashes, respiratory problems, heart problems, miscarriages, stillbirths, infant mortality, birth abnormalities, and cancers.

 The so-called Pilot Project at Carlsbad had been promoted as the disposal answer for plutonium-tainted nuclear weapons waste, and was “designed to last 10,000 years.” But as Santa Monica, Calif. activist Myla Reson reports, “The dump failed 9,985 years ahead of schedule.”

 And we’re safer for it, Reson says, “because justification for approval of the dump relied on a fabricated site characterization and analysis” which made continued use of the dump potentially catastrophic -- either through onsite explosions, long-term ground water contamination, or transportation disasters involving crashes en route from Hanford, Washington and the Idaho National Lab, and a dozen other H-bomb production sites from Livermore, Calif., to Oak Ridge Tenn.