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Concerned Carlsbad Residents Seek Answers At Public Meeting

About 300 Carlsbad residents showed up to a public meeting for a chance to ask questions after a radiation leak.
Carlsbad, NM (Big 2 News) -From the Carlsbad Current-Argus:


CARLSBAD -- Around 300 Carlsbad residents packed the Pecos River Village Conference Center Monday for the chance to ask officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant about last week's radiation leak.

Several members of the audience asked and received assurances that the levels of radiation that escaped from WIPP's underground into the outside air was safe. 

"Our main goal and concern is to continue to protect our employees and the environment," Nuclear Waste Partnership Farok Sharif said. "Everything is looking good and safe. There is no indication at all to say that we have any issues."

Prior to the town hall, the Department of Energy released new data on Monday afternoon that bolstered the agency's claim that there is no contamination threat for local citizens in Southeast New Mexico.

Assessment of environmental samples collected in and around the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant show radioactive contamination in the air around the nation's only nuclear repository ranged from 1.3 to 4.4 disintegrations per minute. Samples were taken at numerous locations around the repository, according to a news release.

Radiation was detected above ground last week by a lab that monitors radiation levels at the site. Officials haven't said the cause of the leak, but they've said the radiation's signature is consistent with the type of waste being buried at WIPP.

WIPP is the nation's only disposal facility for transuranic waste, commonly referred to as "TRU" waste, which is radioactive material generated from the nation's nuclear weapons program during the Cold War era. The site, 26 miles east of Carlsbad, started accepting shipments from nuclear facilities around the country in 1999. The waste is disposed 2,150 feet below ground in the salt beds of the Permian Basin. 

DPM measures the contamination by referring to how quickly radioactive material is decaying and releasing radioactive particles of energy.

Sharif and Department of Energy Carlsbad Field Office Manager Joe Franco appealed to the audience by letting them know they shared in the worries about the radiation leak.

"This is my town," said Sharif, who has worked at WIPP for more than 20 years and spent a majority of his time living in Carlsbad after moving to the United States from Malaysia. 

Franco told the audience that he was born and raised in Carlsbad and that his take on the situation was that it is "very serious" and "unfortunate, but it is what it is."

The DOE found through dose assessment modeling, which calculates potential radioactivity exposure to people, that humans have a potential of less than one millirem of exposure to radiation from the Feb. 14 leak. A person receives about 10 millirems from a chest X-ray procedure.

No outside protestors appeared at the town hall meeting and the question and answer forum moderated by former State Senator and chairman of the Carlsbad Nuclear Task Force John Heaton ran smooth for the most part.

The only disturbance came in the form of Martin Mills, who is running in Carlsbad's mayoral election against incumbent Dale Janway.

Mills used his question to shout at Heaton and other WIPP officials and would not let them give a response. 

At one point during Mills' rant, a guest shouted, "this is not a political campaign forum."

WIPP received and disposed of its last waste shipments underground the morning of Feb. 5, the day a vehicle used to haul salt caught on fire, forcing immediate evacuations of all personnel. Six workers were treated for smoke inhalation at Carlsbad Medical Center.

Most of WIPP's recently disposed waste has come from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory. The facility had been averaging 16 waste shipments per week according to the DOE.

WIPP had also received some waste from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois on a more limited basis. 
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