Worker Sues WIPP Nuclear Site For Negligence In Fire, Facility Operation

The first worker from WIPP has filed a lawsuit claiming widespread negligence at WIPP by the Department of Energy and the network of contractors that operate the facility.

Among the things listed as negligence in the lawsuit:

  • Lack of maintenance to the vehicle that started on fire in the underground due to a build up of flammable materials
  • Onboard fire suppression system on the vehicle failed to work
  • The portable fire extinguisher on the truck was never used
  • The truck was designed to use non flammable hydraulic fluid but flammable fluid was used in the vehicle
  • A 300 pound fire suppression system was unable to get to the location of the fire
  • The contractors didn’t use a rescue truck after the fire started
  • The truck operator was inadequately trained to put out a potential fire on the equipment
  • The truck had known leaks but was still in operation without repairs
  • The automatic fire suppression system for the truck had been removed from the truck
  • Trucks had previous catalytic converter fires but nothing was done to prevent future fires
  • The emergency PA system could not be heard
  • Evacuation alarms were sounded for less than 5 seconds
  • Not all of the phones in the mine worked
  • Evacuation strobe lights were turned on late, provided insufficient visibility and some failed to work
  • Reflectors intended to guide workers out of the mine in an emergency were not visible as many had equipment or structures placed in front of them
  • WIPP contractors switched the mine ventilation system over to the HEPA filter bank during the fire. This was against documented procedures.
  • Ventilation control and egress routes were chained open or closed by the contractor
  • The emergency breathing devices were ineffective or not maintained
  • The emergency breathing devices were not located where workers could find them in an emergency
  • Workers were not properly trained in the use of the emergency breathing devices or where they were located

These allegations are extremely concerning. They also fit within the findings of the initial DOE investigation into the recent incidents at the nuclear facility.

Of these claims in the lawsuit the mention that egress routes may have been chained shut is an incredibly dangerous situation. Such an action could have easily lead to worker deaths in an emergency.

The first worker to file suit has experience considerable smoke inhalation damage that is ongoing. Also mentioned in this lawsuit that is new, there were 6 workers who suffered severe enough smoke inhalation to be sent to the hospital. There were a total of 85 workers in the mine at the time of the fire. DOE and the contractor had previously characterized the mine as being with minimal staff at the time of the fire.

The entire legal document with more details on the incident can be found here
More info on the suit can be found here
Information on the breathing devices used in the mine can be found here


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