|"Forget the Rest" blog|
Editorial: WIPP report details string of management mistakesPUBLISHED: Monday, April 20, 2015 at 12:02 am
The list of mistakes that led up to the 2014 Valentine’s Day radiation leak at the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository is long. They point directly at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The DOE’s appointed Accident Investigation Board last week released its final report of its investigation into the leak and other safety issues.
The report lays out a pattern of arrogance, neglect and apparent ignorance of the science required to safely process nuclear waste for permanent storage in the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in southeastern New Mexico.
According to earlier reports and this investigation, the lid on one of many drums packed at LANL and shipped to WIPP cracked open as a result of a hot reaction from being packed with nitrate salts and organic wheat-based cat litter used to absorb liquids. Radiation was released into the underground waste dump and into the above-ground environment, contaminating nearly two dozen workers with low levels of radiation.
Among the most damning findings:
Investigators also blamed LANL contractor Los Alamos National Security LLC, a consortium including the Bechtel Corp. and the University of California, for not implementing required controls. And it criticized DOE headquarters and its Los Alamos and Carlsbad field offices for not making sure LANL followed adequate waste packaging procedures.
Granted, LANL was under serious time pressure from the state to clean up waste from nuclear weapons work, and WIPP is the only game in town right now. But this is a national scientific lab that failed to apply its own scientific expertise to a critical task.
LANL director Charles McMillan in a memo to LANL staff wrote “We now know from the investigations that if LANL had followed certain basic steps, this event would not have happened. … ”
Today, hundreds of drums packed with the incompatible materials that led to the leak are sitting in WIPP. It’s past time that LANL and the DOE learn those critical lessons needed to prevent another – and potentially – more dangerous breach.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.