We have some new WIPP radiation readings along with some additional information to bring people up to speed on this issue.
New DOE above ground readings have also been made public:
To give some more familiar numbers 3 rem converted to a sievert reading would be 30 µSv (microsieverts). This is a flat reading, not a “per hour” type reading. If you have followed readings at Fukushima you will notice that sometimes they give flat readings without a time added to it. The dose equivalent is a calculation rather than a direct reading. You can read more about that here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalent_dose
Dose equivalents for the above ground readings are between 30 uSv and .1 uSv. These readings are in and around the above ground areas of the plant complex.
CEMRC the local monitoring facility confirmed to us that they have obtained the monitoring filters on either side of the air shaft HEPA filters. This will help better understand the level of radiation in the mine and how much may have made it above ground through the filter. HEPA filters have a 99.97% filtration rate. Those readings should be available in a few days. These readings will give a better idea what levels in the mine were like and what might have made it through the filter.
We have received a couple of emails and tweets from various people in the local media in New Mexico and now are getting conflicting stories out of the DOE press conference related to an underground radiation reading taken at the time the incident happened. We are continuing to try to confirm this reading so we can make sure we have the correct version.
Additional Information On WIPP:
SRIC, a local group in New Mexico that has been a citizen watchdog over the WIPP site has some insight into the incident.
- The air monitoring station that found offsite contamination may be a mile and a half away, rather than the 1/2 mile published in the press.
- Approximately 3000 feet of tunnels and the exhaust shaft are likely contaminated.
- There may have been as many as 258 barrels in panel 7, room 7 where the ceiling collapse is suspected
- The offsite filter finding is consistent with WIPP contact handled waste
- CEMRC has the monitoring filters from the HEPA filter on the mine exhaust shaft and is testing it
Many additional details are available in the SRIC report.
There were also additional details in a DOE report on the earlier fire in the mine:
A safety crew had returned into the mine after the truck fire to confirm the fire was out and to check the air. At that time they considered it safe to breathe. This was on February 5th, the same day as the fire. More details about the earlier truck fire incident can be found here:
DOE gave some updates today on what needs to be done now:
- A plan to safely re-enter the mine
- Preparations are in progress on the surface at WIPP to safely contain contamination in the mine
- Personnel who re-enter the mine will have appropriate protective equipment
- Completing a work plan to replace the high efficiency air particulate (HEPA) filters in the Filter Exhaust Building on the surface to filter any contaminants from the mine
- Re-enter the mine and return the mine to safe conditions
- Developing plans to return to normal waste disposal operations
HEPA filter diagram, not specific to WIPP
DOE has said nothing about the need to decontaminate the mine itself. This along with the exhaust shaft will likely need decontamination. There has also been no statement on plans yet to do any decontamination work above ground.
WIPP’s Less Than Stellar Record:
A DOE audit of WIPP in 2012 found a long list of deficiencies in their emergency planning.
Some of the concerns cited:
“does not identify natural phenomena initiating events or severe NPEs for consideration and consequence assessment analysis during the development of the EPHA”
The emergency planning did not account for off site ranchers or barricades in the prediction of exposure consequences during a radiological release. There were also concerns about the command center not having a proper back up along with proper environmental controls in case of a natural disaster. The main command center was also cited for not having an alternative power supply. WIPP officials were unable to explain how the back up power systems design meets DOE criteria for sufficient back up power for critical systems. The alternative command center was cited as not being robust enough to withstand an anticipated natural disaster and it did not have a back up power supply. It is however 26 miles from the site.
WIPP has enough back up power capacity for 4.5 hours at 100% capacity. They may be able to run at less than full power for longer, but this is a short time frame as we saw during the Fukushima disaster when it can take more than a few hours to get help to a site when there are complicating factors. It is also noted that the diesel tank used to power the generators is used during regular operation to fuel vehicles on site. This means that the tank could have slightly less capacity for generators if they are waiting on a fuel delivery. In order to use this back up power workers need to manually align connections, requiring them to move about the site possibly during hazardous conditions. The site also has no capability to connect to mobile power generators. Again, something that added to the failure cascade at Fukushima. Mobile generators are not included in the safety planning. Meanwhile most US nuclear plants were asked to add portable generator capability after the Fukushima disaster.
If all AC power is lost there is about 30 minutes of battery capacity for critical systems such as communications, radiation monitoring, central monitoring, a seismic trip system, fire alarms and monitoring and computer systems. They also cite batteries for the pager phone system. What happened at Fukushima with their similar system was that as the batteries ran low they discovered they had no way to recharge the phones since the base charging stations did not have power.
DOE also found some deficiencies in how they do checks on the office equipment in the Emergency Operations Center to assure it would work in an actual emergency. Again, this was something they found during Fukushima, where the offsite emergency center had failings in preparation that rendered the facility useless and caused it to be abandoned at the height of the disaster. There were also deficiencies found in the offsite notification system that could result in the public not being notified or notified in a timely manner.
A deficiency was also found where the fire brigade had no plan to test the condition of their radiation protection suits, something the manufacturer suggests be done annually. The report mentions that the fire brigade admits the suits are not in usable condition. This may only mean that they are untested. Either way this is a significant risk for emergency personnel.
In the event of a total loss of AC power the elevators to lift personnel out of the mine won’t work. The site does not have the capability on site to rescue miners and would have to call on such staff from outside mining operations. It is unknown if their rescue equipment would work at WIPP. The site also does not have a contingency plan to provide site security after a natural disaster. The site has two ambulances but does not have an agreement with any level 1 trauma center to be prepared to intake injured personnel with chemical or radiological injuries. The nearest level 1 trauma center is 150 miles away.
There also seemed to be some deficiencies in planning for evacuation of the public or other safety measures in the event of an incident. This is explained further in the two findings of the investigation:
“Finding F-1: WTS has not fully developed pre-determined protective actions and PARs that are technically based and ensure the health and safety of workers and the public, as required by DOE Order 151.1C, Contractor Requirements Document, Section 14. (See Section 5.2.)
Finding F-2: WTS has not fully developed an effective integrated emergency management program that coordinates offsite response planning, including such PARs as sheltering, evacuation, relocation, and food control, as required by DOE Order 151.1C, Contractor Requirements
Document, Sections 9, 14, 16, and 17, and RCRA 40 CFR 264, Subpart D. (See Section 5.4.)”
While some of what is in the report finds satisfactory conditions at the plant, they found an unusual number of problems. These problems are in areas critical to safety in the event of a natural disaster or event at the facility. This leaves many concerns that in a big incident at the facility they currently may be ill equipped to respond.
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