Two recent incidents at the U. S. Government’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), near Carlsbad, New Mexico, should concern Big Bend residents. The WIPP is the underground storage facility for the government’s nuclear waste from defense endeavors, and is comprised of football field sized rooms hollowed out of salt deposits 2,000 feet underground. It stores over 400,000 barrels of nuclear waste, mostly in 55 gallon drums. The WIPP is only licensed to store low level waste, although numerous indications show that it also contains some high level waste. An excellent overview of the WIPP, concerns about its surrounding geology, and a history of its development can be found at www.cardnm.org .
On February 4, 2014, a truck carrying salt in the underground part of the facility caught fire, prompting an emergency evacuation. A recent report on the incident issued by the U.S. Department of Energy stated that the truck was 30 years old, had not been maintained properly allowing oil to build up on the engine, the onboard fire suppression system failed, the fire extinguisher the driver used also failed, the emergency lighting system took over 5 minutes to engage, and the control room was slow to respond.
Then on February 14, 2012, barrels of nuclear material were breached either by spontaneous combustion or a ceiling collapse in an active storage room, allowing the release of Americium, Plutonium, and likely other elements above the ground. Radioactive particles flew over one and a half miles from the release point, including up a 2,000 foot ventilation shaft, to reach the outside of the plant. At least 13 workers on the surface of the facility were found to be contaminated with the escaped materials. Although a radiation alarm triggered a filtering system on the WIPP’s exhaust air shaft, it remains unclear how quickly it engaged and how much radioactive material escaped or is escaping in total. As of this writing, the underground areas of the facility are still too radioactive for humans to enter. For more information about this, go towww.sric.org , www.enenews.com , or www.agreenroad.blogspot.com . Search for “WIPP” to find more information. Forums on “Effects of Low Level Radiation” and “Combating Radiation and its Effects” are at Enenews.com.
Carlsbad is about 160 miles due north of Alpine. (The private nuclear waste facility in Andrews, Texas, is 140 miles to our northeast.) While the wind on February 14th blew from the southwest, we’ve had several northers since then, including a dust storm. It appears that the only readings of radioactive materials around the WIPP are from ground based stations, and remains unclear if particles released into the air were tracked. A U.S. wind flow map is at http://hint.fm/wind/ .
Like it or not, between incidents like the one in Carlsbad and others, and the releases from the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan, we are living in a new world of exposure to man made radioactive isotopes, which are deadly to humans and other life on our planet. (Fukushima has been releasing over 300 metric tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean each day since March, 2011. That “plume” is expected on the U.S. west coast this spring.)
No matter how one feels about nuclear power, nuclear weapons, or nuclear waste, it has become ever more essential to be aware of the effects of man made radioactive emissions. After the Fukushima disaster, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency quietly raised the allowable level of Cesium 134 & 137 in U.S. drinking water by 66.6 times, allowing a “new normal” all but previously unthinkable. More information on radiation in our food can be found atwww.sccc.org.au/pages/The-Food-Lab.html#USA (scroll down and click on “USA”.)
The nuclear industry is a $5 trillion dollar behemoth that wages an ongoing and extensive public relations campaign to mislead the public and make sure that lawmakers use kidd gloves on it. The only way of ensuring that regular folks stay aware, safe, and healthy is to spend the time doing one’s own research.
You and your loved ones are worth that effort.
Peter A. Smyke, Alpine