Five Highly Acidic Radioactive Waste Containers Stored in Andrews, Spokesman Says Public is Not in Danger

Jun 11, 2014

By Alicia Neaves
NewsWest 9

suspect drums

ANDREWS – NewsWest 9 has new details on five potentially explosive containers of nuclear waste. Turns out, they are all being stored in Andrews County. That waste came from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. They could be tied to a drum that caused a radiation leak at the underground nuclear storage site in Carlsbad. NewsWest 9 talked to Waste Control Specialists in Andrews County about the dangerous situation and how they’re handling it.

The New Mexico Environment Department confirms the Department of Energy is taking a closer look at six waste containers, all of which have very high acid levels along with nitrate salts mixed with organic kitty litter. Those six include the one which leaked radiation at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad. The other five are stored temporarily at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews.

On February 19, the New Mexico Environment Department confirmed radiation release into atmosphere. The source? A drum underground whose lid cracked.

Five more drums with the same highly acidic contents are under surveillance 24/7 at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews. If they get too hot, it could potentially be explosive.

"They’re constantly monitored, they’ve got temperature gauges on them, we know what the temperature is, we’ve got videos monitoring them in case there’s anything we need to know about we can act quickly," Chuck McDonald, Spokesman for Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, said.

To keep them cool, the 55-gallon drums are stored below ground inside a 25-foot concrete canister surrounded by rock material for insulation and sealed off with a heavy steel lid.

"Now we’re in the process of moving that into an area where we can surround it with dirt. The significance of that is it helps cool the containers. This time of year obviously heat is a factor so that will significantly reduce the temperature inside those containers," McDonald said.

These drums come from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The rest of the bunch are stored in isolation, continuously monitored. Waste Control Specialists say all procedures are in place to monitor the waste and protect the community.

"We feel good at WCS that we’ve taken every precaution necessary to protect our employees and the health and safety of the area," McDonald said.

The U.S. Department of Energy says, "WIPP, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Waste Control Specialists (WCS) have compensatory measures in place to ensure the people and the environment are protected. Any waste containers of concern are segregated from other containers at the sites."

A popular theory is that because of a switch from inorganic to organic kitty litter at Los Alamos, that is what caused the overheating which popped the lid off the 55-gallon barrel in Carlsbad.

Scientists are still trying to mimic what caused the barrel lid to crack underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad. Again, the five drums are only temporarily stored in Andrews. They will stay until the WIPP facility is re-opened in about two weeks.

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