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13 were exposed to radiation at New Mexico plant via WTOP

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Employees who were working at the nation’s underground nuclear waste dump when it started leaking didn’t show signs of external contamination, but officials say biological samples show 13 workers suffered some exposure to radiation.

The U.S. Department of Energy and the contractor that runs the Waste Isolation Pilot Project declined to comment further on the preliminary test results announced Wednesday, saying they’ll discuss the issue at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

“It is important to note that these are initial sample results,” the DOE and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the plant operator, said in a joint statement. “These employees, both federal and contractor, will be asked to provide additional samples in order to fully determine the extent of any exposure.”

All employees who were working at the southeastern New Mexico plant when the leak occurred late Feb. 14 were checked for contamination before being allowed to leave, the news release said. But biological samples were also taken to check for possible exposure from inhaling radioactive particles.

Elevated radiation levels have been detected in the air around the plant, but officials have said the readings are too low to constitute a public health threat.

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“The health and safety of the Carlsbad community and WIPP personnel are my top priority,” Udall said.

New Mexico State University runs a monitoring center in Carlsbad that offers free radiation-detecting body scans. The director of the center said there has been a rise in appointments being scheduled since the leak.

WIPP is the nation’s first deep underground nuclear repository and the only facility in the country that can store plutonium-contaminated clothing and tools from Los Alamos National Laboratory and other federal nuclear sites.

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