Ongoing environmental monitoring and assessment of the long-term impacts of the February 2014 radiological release from the waste isolation pilot plant
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Three years ago, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) experienced its first minor accident involving a radiological release. Late in the evening on February 14, 2014, a waste container in the repository underwent a chemical reaction that caused the container to overheat and breach, releasing its contents into the underground. Following a lengthy recovery process, the facility recently resumed waste disposal operations. The accident released significant levels of radioactivity into the disposal room and adjacent exhaust drifts, and although no one was present in the underground at the time of the release, a total of 22 workers tested positive for very low level of radiation, presumably from some of the radioactive material that was released above ground through a small leak in the HEPA filtration system. The dominant radionuclides released were 241Am and 239 + 240Pu in a ratio that matched the content of the drum from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that was eventually identified as the breached container. From the air particulate monitoring and plume modeling, it was concluded that the dose, at the nearest location accessible to the general public, from this radiation release event would have been less than 0.01 mSv (< 1 mrem/year). This level is well below the 0.1 mSv/year (10 mrem/year) regulatory limit for DOE facilities established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
While no long-term impacts to public health or the environment are expected as a result of the WIPP radiation release, the limited ventilation and residual contamination levels in the underground are still a concern and pose a major challenge for the full recovery of WIPP. This article provides an up-to-date overview of environmental monitoring results through the WIPP recovery and an estimate of the long-term impacts of the accident on the natural and human environment.
KeywordsWIPP Radiation Release Plutonium Americium Source term Contamination level
This research is supported by grant from US Department of Energy, Carlsbad Field Office of DOE through Grant No. DE-EM 0002423.
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