Plutonium Release at U.S. Nuclear Facility: “We Don’t Know What Happened”

As a subscriber to the “Threat Journal” I received an alert on February 22nd stating there was a release of radiation from an underground nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad, NM. Several days after the radiation release the facility remained closed as continued increased levels were detected. As of this publishing I do not know if it has reopened.


Here are a few excerpts from the story:

Known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the facility is the nation’s only licensed deep geological nuclear waste repository. Located approximately 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the facility is the nation’s solution for permanent disposal of the Department of Energy’s cold war legacy transuranic waste that has been stored at 23 former nuclear-weapons-complex and generation sites located across 13 states.

The event began late on 2/15 when air monitors detected elevated radiation levels in the plant’s underground storage complex located more than 2000 feet beneath the surface. No employees were working underground at the time and those on the surface sheltered in place as a precaution.

Fast forward to this week. Operations at the facility have been halted and workers unable to reenter the underground storage complex due to high radiation levels. On Wednesday, tests by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center, a division of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, showed the presence americium and plutonium on at least one air filter retrieved from a sampling station located a half mile from the from the WIPP site.

According to Russell Hardy, director of the center, the radiation levels are the highest ever detected at or around the site. The Department of Energy states they are still not aware of the cause of the radiation release in underground complex as workers have been unable to get back inside, let alone how radiation managed to get to the surface, if this was a one-time event or an ongoing release.

DOE also indicates that operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant will not resume anytime soon and it could three or four weeks before workers can go underground to survey the possible source of the radiation release.

Despite the fact that everyone, at least publicly, is shrugging their shoulders as to the cause and severity, Department of Energy Carlsbad Field Office Manager Joe Franco assured the public in a news conference Thursday afternoon that the environment, personnel and public are not at risk.

It is interesting to note that despite this claim of no risk to the public, the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center is providing free lung and body scans to concerned adults living within a 100-mile radius of the WIPP facility.

Although it appears that danger to the general public is non-existent – or extremely minor – this event demonstrates one danger among many that exists all around us. Many of these threats exists right in front of us but are not easily seen as we go about our daily lives. 

Keep preparing.



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  1. Nice. This keeps up and you won’t need a flashlight in NM. Ok, slightly exaggerated. This is one that I had forgotten about. Living in northwest AR., I will be checking how the wind blows for future reference.

  2. No danger from the leak, but you can get free lung exams and body scans, right. We lived in Roswell, NM from to 2003 to 2005 and thinking maybe moving to FL was a good idea. Americium has a radioactive half life of 458 years emits alpha and weak gamma rays. Plutonium, depending on which one it is, there seems to be four, has a half life between 86 and 24,00 years and emits alpha particles. Alpha particles reach into the dead skin layer so clothing should keep you safe and a good shower is not a bad idea. Breathing it in or swallowing it can cause illness or death and exposer to even a small amount can show up years latter. Gamma radiation is not particles but electromagnetic emissions and do not appear to be an issue in this case.

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