Senators: Assess Risk; Deploy Mobile Monitors to WIPP

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad. Courtesy/wikipedia


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy Thursday asking her to provide public health analysis and deploy mobile environmental monitoring units to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad.

The mobile monitors would conduct independent tests and help respond to questions that have arisen from the community about safety following the Feb. 14 radiation leak at WIPP.

“The health and safety of the Carlsbad community and WIPP personnel are our top priorities. It is critical to ensure the public has access to accurate, timely information,” the senators stated in their letter. “As such, we would appreciate EPA’s analysis of this event, including an assessment of the amount of radiation that has been released into the atmosphere and how those releases compare to EPA standards of exposure that are considered safe and unsafe.” 

The EPA is a key public health agency responsible for setting standards for acceptable levels of both natural and man-made sources of radiation in air, water, soils, and occupational environments. It is the federal environmental regulator of WIPP and it has authority over external radiation releases. EPA has assisted in a similar way in the past – for example, the agency deployed radiation monitors to the Los Alamos area during wildfires in 2000 and 2011. 

Although EPA and the Department of Energy are already coordinating the response to the radiation event, Carlsbad leaders have said they would welcome additional independent information to help residents. The senators have previously urged the DOE to work to communicate regularly and openly with community members and the state.

“We appreciate the testing being done by DOE and other independent agencies, like the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center and believe the community would benefit from additional information on this situation so that they have the confidence they need that the appropriate federal agencies are providing all possible information and doing everything necessary to ensure their safety,” the senators said.

Both senators remain in close contact with federal, state and local officials, including Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, which are assisting in the response.

See letter.

About WIPP

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is the world’s third deep geological repository (after closure of Germany’s Repository for radioactive waste Morsleben and the Schacht Asse II Salt Mine) licensed to permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years that is left from the research and production of nuclear weapons.

It is located approximately 26 miles (42 km) east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in eastern Eddy County, in an area known as the southeastern New Mexico nuclear corridor which also includes the National Enrichment Facility near Eunice, New Mexico, the Waste Control Specialists low-level waste disposal facility just over the border near Andrews, Texas, and the International Isotopes, Inc. facility to be built near Eunice, New Mexico.