Serious problems at a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico have caught the eyes of the press and government officials in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
The current round of troubles began February 5 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, when six workers were briefly hospitalized for smoke inhalation after a truck caught fire. A Valentine’s Day radiation leak then released plutonium and americium, resulting in exposures to at least 17 workers. An undetermined quantity of toxic chemicals also leaked.
Since February 14, additional radiation releases connected to the original one have been reported, even as more workers are still awaiting test results for possible radiation exposure during the first event.
Although Ciudad Juarez is located nearly 200 miles from WIPP, city officials expect to meet with U.S. government representatives on March 26 or 27 to discuss ongoing issues from the February 14 incident.
Mexican whistle-blower Bernardo Salas Mar, a former employee of the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant in Veracruz, said important bits of information need to be confirmed about the WIPP radiation release like the wind patterns at the time of the incident and the possible geographic scope of the spread of contaminants.
“The answer to these questions will lend knowledge to the damage that could have been caused,” Salas said. “After (radiation) ingestion or incorporation into the human organism, 10 or 15 years or more pass before the appearance of some kind of cancer.”
If plutonium and americium were indeed released into the larger environment, “the surrounding population should take precautions in order to avoid exposure to these contaminants,” he added.
The nuclear industry veteran suggested that Mexico’s Foreign Ministry review international treaties to ensure that all precautionary measures are followed in terms of cross-border notifications and actions.