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WIPP incident

  1. Feb 17, 2014 #1

    etudiant

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    It seems there was an unexpected radiation release within the WIPP late last Friday, Feb 14, 2014.
    While there are no reported injuries or external radiation leaks reported, there have been no follow up reports from the DoE apart from the very sketchy initial confirmation of the incident.

    Given that the waste management issue is very much in the forefront of the opposition to nuclear power, this reflexive reversion to the nuclear industry's old 'just keep silent and hope the problem goes away' news management technique is discouraging.
    Does anyone have an update on the situation?
     
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  3. Feb 18, 2014 #2

    QuantumPion

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    Are we going to get a news story and topic every time a continuous air monitor goes off somewhere in the world?

    If this was the medical industry, the story would go something like this:
    "A patient was seen coughing in a hospital last week. Is this the beginning of a new epidemic? How many people will die in the coming months as a result of this outbreak? Why are doctors keeping silent? Is it a government conspiracy to hide the danger from the public?"
     
  4. Feb 18, 2014 #3
    You left out "we need to close all of the hospitals in the country NOW. Homeopathy is more natural, anyway..."
     
  5. Feb 18, 2014 #4

    etudiant

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    Guys, these comparisons are silly.
    Afaik, this is the first time ever that the WIPP personnel were told to 'shelter in place' and then evacuated.
    Also, it is noteworthy that both New Mexico Senators were notified and issued statements expressing confidence, but little concrete news.
    Since then, no 'all clear' that I've heard, just radio silence. An update was promised within a day, but nothing has been released.
    So I don't know anything about what is happening at the WIPP, just that an alarm was issued, the people evacuated and the venting shut down. Should people be concerned? Nobody can tell.
    This is the kind of 'head in the sand' news management that is killing the industry, imho.
     
  6. Feb 18, 2014 #5
    Sorry, etudiant. I thought twice before pushing the "Submit Reply" button, maybe I should have thought thrice. My bad for piling on.
     
  7. Feb 18, 2014 #6

    QuantumPion

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    This isn't head in the sand. This is a non-news story hyped by reporters that are ignorant of how nuclear facilities operate and the nature of radiation. This is the very definition of fear-mongering:

    Fear mongering (or scaremongering or scare tactics) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle.

    From http://phys.org/news/2014-02-leak-mexico-nuclear.html

    So it sounds like they had a CAM alarm which activated automatic ventilation shut offs. No actual leak or contamination has been found so far. No personnel were exposed.
     
  8. Feb 18, 2014 #7

    etudiant

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    So a non event, followed by radio silence for the next 5 days. Seems logical to me /sarc

    The problem is that this kind of 'I know better' attitude is what has killed public trust in the nuclear industry, because when it eventually comes out that there was indeed a problem, people will remember.
    The industry desperately needs sunlight, it is tangibly cleaner than any of the alternatives, but it will die, deservedly so imho, if it keeps up its preference for obscurity.
     
  9. Feb 18, 2014 #8

    QuantumPion

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    I'm not sure what you are referring to by "the industry", this is a Department of Energy facility which is responsible for storing waste from nuclear weapons production.
     
  10. Feb 18, 2014 #9

    etudiant

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    Precisely.
    DOE sets the tone for the industry they created. Unfortunately, they have never overcome their Manhattan District security mindset. Hence the pervasive failure to communicate and the gradual loss of public trust.
    In this case, I think that no news is not good news. Hopefully I'll be proven wrong.
     
  11. Feb 18, 2014 #10

    QuantumPion

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    I'm sorry but you've lost me, I have no idea what you are talking about. Not sure how announcing to news media the moment something unusual happens and providing a phone number for public questions is a failure to communicate or indicative of some sort of coverup. Why don't you find out what is happening yourself instead of letting your preconceptions run wild?
     
  12. Feb 18, 2014 #11

    etudiant

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    Thank you QuantumPion for the added info that there is a phone number for questions. That was not in any of the comments I saw. What is the number?
    Beyond that, I don't have preconceptions running wild, just noting that the initial statements promised a follow up within a day, which still has not happened. I call that a failure to communicate.
     
  13. Feb 18, 2014 #12

    QuantumPion

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  14. Feb 19, 2014 #13
    Well, I for one would like to see more news (as in: actual information) in my news.
    What kind of sensor was showing evevated readings? What were these readings, exactly? (There can be different levels of "elevated", you know).
    What are their "normal" reading as a comparison? Are there other redundant sensors, what do they show? Etc...
     
  15. Feb 20, 2014 #14

    etudiant

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    The local paper filed an FOI request yesterday that DOE provide incremental data.
    http://www.currentargus.com/carlsbad-news/ci_25179328/lab-radiation-detected-above-ground-near-wipp-site [Broken]
    So you are not alone feeling left in the dark.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  16. Feb 20, 2014 #15
    One thing which would be interesting to know, what is the logic for their CAMs to trigger an alarm and automatic ventilation shift to filtered mode? If it is 1 out of 1 or something, there would be a higher potential of a false actuation. And what were the sequence of events. Did the cam go off, and procedures required shelter in place because of just the CAM alarm? Or did they have other measurements/readings which triggered the shelter in place?

    I'm interested to see how this is going
     
  17. Feb 20, 2014 #16
  18. Feb 20, 2014 #17

    etudiant

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    Obviously the concern is that detection of external airborne signals imply more substantial internal releases.
    While this is unlikely to be a deal killer, it does suggest a real spill, which is unexpected.
    Perhaps someone shipped stuff that was mischaracterized. It would not be unprecedented, look up Lockheed's experience with Pit 9 at INEL.
     
  19. Feb 22, 2014 #18

    QuantumPion

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    They detected 0.046 Bq of Plutonium 0.6 miles away? That's pretty astounding.

    The specific activity of Pu239 is (ln2 * Na) / (HL * 239) = 2.3e9 Bq/g. So 0.046 Bq = 2e-11 g or 0.02 nanograms.

    I wonder what the typical background Am and Pu concentration is due to atmospheric weapons testing.
     
  20. Feb 22, 2014 #19
    It sure is. Check out the comments below the two blog posts. Some pretty knowledgable folks chime in and describe the sampling and counting process in detail. Worth a read.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2014
  21. Feb 23, 2014 #20
    I have a question regarding the storage capabilities at the WIPP facility. My initial impression of WIPP is that it was to be used for the storage of materials contaminated by transuranic elements during the manufacture and production of Department of Defense weapons. However, it appears that WIPP has started accepting shipments of the some weapons grade plutonium that was found to be to impure for conversion into MOX fuel. This plutonium, roughly 13 tons, stored at the K reactor site at Savannah River, is to be vitrified before storage at WIPP. I was unaware that Savannah River had a vitrification facility. I'm linking an article that discusses that shipments commenced starting in September of 2012. http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2012/09/united_states_begins_ship.html

    Since that site appears to have an agenda I'm also linking the following article that goes into detail discussing the PMDA and options regarding the storage and disposal of the deemed excess plutonium. http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2013_0708/The-Future-of-Plutonium-Disposition

    My question is three part. 1. Was WIPP equipped to store weapons grade plutonium and 2. How was the plutonium vitrified if Savannah River doesn't have the capability and 3. Storage of weapons grade plutonium at WIPP makes any kind of "event" there of more importance than just some clothing or equipment that was radiated during DoD operations.

    Thanks for any input from the experts.
     
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