1. Radiation survey of the underground
No complete radiation survey of the underground areas has been released to date. These have been asked for multiple times by various parties. Both the contractor and DOE have refused to make them public. This data is key towards both public accountability and for fully understanding the disaster.
2.WIPP vent system
The HEPA filters were originally scheduled to be changed out. A new set of HEPA filters needed to be ordered as WIPP had no replacement set. They were assumed to be in need of replacement due to soot and radioactive contamination from the two events at the nuclear site. This April 2014 image (immediately below) is a screen-print from the WIPP town Hall video with the presentation slides in the background – page 9 on the slider of this .pdf. – http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/Presentations/Town_Hall%20Slides_4_23_14.pdf – ) It specifies that HEPA filter replacements were being delivered and replacement was scheduled for next month. This May 2014 tweet by DOE showed postponed for “filter” replacement but does not specify the filters to be changed (HEPA or pre-filters) This report from WIPP for July 2014 shows that “filter” changes are part of the recovery work but again does not specify the type of filters. The MOD (pre-filters) were changed out a second time in early March 2015. This was after the ceiling fall in January and extensive bolting activities that required use of diesel powered equipment. So the question is, did the HEPA filters ever actually get changed out? The different language raises many questions and concerns that only the pre-filters have been changed out since the initial incident. The WIPP contractor gave considerable detail before the work was to be conducted then very little after the fact. The filter system consists of three types. Moderate efficiency filters, high efficiency filters and HEPA filters.
On June 13, 2014 the moderate and high filters were changed out in filter bank 1 of 2. June 17th they confirm the first bank had the moderate and high filters only changed and the same was planned for filter bank two. On June 20th WIPP states that they considered there to be sufficient airflow and opted to not change out the HEPA filters of bank 1, then put bank 1 back into full operation. Only high and moderate filters were changed for bank 2 according to this WIPP statement. Other than what WIPP calls sufficient airflow, no other explanation for not changing out the contaminated HEPA filters has been given. No radiation contamination data for those HEPA filters was made public to our knowledge.
Initial May 2014 filter announcement: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Update%205_30_14.pdf
June 13, 2014 filter announcement: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Update%206_13_14.pdf
June 17, 2014 filter announcement: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Update%206_17_14.pdf
June 20, 2014 filter announcement: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Update%206_20_14.pdf
June 24, 2014 filter announcement http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Update%206_24_14.pdf
The most recent April 2015 town hall meeting included a question to NWP staff about these HEPA filters. They stated that they had indeed not been changed out and claimed that they have not taken any radiation readings on or near the HEPA filters themselves. They appear to be using the flow rate as the only measure of effectiveness of the HEPA filters.
Barry, a member of our research team did find this from April 2014 that shows there is some vague understanding by WIPP of the contamination within the total of the filter banks.
http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/Presentations/Town_Hall%20Slides_4_23_14.pdf a few numbers historically noted in the April 23 2014 presentation: On Saturday at 7:15 AM, February 15, the Radiological Controls Manager reported 4.4 million disintegrations per minute (dpm) alpha contamination on filters from effluent monitoring Station A upstream from the HEPAs and indicative of transuranics (TRU). Test results of filters from effluent monitoring Station B downstream from the HEPAs, and at the discharge to the atmosphere, were reported at 9:15 AM and indicated ~28 thousand dpm alpha and ~5.9 thousand beta contamination.
3.Air quality/air exchange
In recent months an Energy Dept. oversight report indicated that the air flow in the underground was insufficient to support the current work being done at the mine. This included limited staff in the underground and the use of certain diesel powered equipment to conduct needed ceiling bolting activities.
“the current version of this Recovery Plan is not fully sufficient to ensure safe conditions underground. The most significant concern is that NWP does not have a sound engineering approach for determining the minimum ventilation rates that will ensure safe conditions for underground workers. In addition, the WIPP Ventilation Plan, a document required by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to provide comprehensive information on ventilation, does not reflect current conditions and is missing some key information necessary for managing safety.” http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/12/f19/2014_WIPP_Recovery_Plan_for_Diesel_Equipment_-_December_2014.pdf
WIPP admitted these problems in a January 2015 statement but to date no compensatory program to deal with the air handling problems has been outlined for the public. The most recent WIPP townhall meeting in April 2015 did mention that NWP had ordered an electric powered bolting machine. This is obviously to help compensate for the insufficient air handling system. This documented problem shows one of the considerable challenges now facing WIPP. They must run in filtration mode due to the contamination of the mine and the air handling system itself. Running in filtration mode makes the air flow insufficient for safe work in the underground. Plans for a completely new air handling system including boring new shafts was already documented to be in the works months ago. It appears that WIPP will have to install that system before anything resembling normal work could truly take place at the facility. The actual installation of a totally new air handling system is quite far down the timeline and shows that the original mine design was insufficient. The current recovery timeline shows that the procurement of materials needed to install this new ventilation system would not even start until 2016.
4.Status of new ventilation system
The new ventilation system is being planned. Of note, at the same time WIPP appears to be planning to replace most of the equipment in the underground and is switching much of the equipment to electric power rather than diesel powered. The new ventilation system has design work scheduled to start in June of 2015 with material purchasing in 2016. Actual construction and installation would not begin until March 2016 and would take until 2018 to complete. Since this system is required for full operations in the mine to take place this long timeline defies the calls by local officials for the facility to be restarted in 2016.
Bolting of the ceiling resumed in November of 2014. As of February of this year they claimed to be “ahead of schedule” for bolting areas of the ceiling. This is ongoing maintenance that has to be done in the mine during normal operation. The salt ceilings gradually creep then fall without maintenance. The bolting work continues using diesel powered equipment even though federal officials show that the air handling system is insufficient. Staff at WIPP have apparently been changing work processes to try to decrease the air pollution.
6. Salt roof collapse
An 8 foot by 8 foot section of ceiling in the contaminated area of the mine collapsed in January. Around the same time WIPP had made ceiling bolting activities their new priority over everything else including work towards closing the panels with the at risk or already exploded barrels in them. This area of the mine with ceiling issues was identified by WIPP staff as being a danger and was blocked off but apparently nothing was done to stop the progression of the roof fall as of January. No explanation for why mitigation work was not done prior to January was mentioned. To date WIPP has not made public any updated data for contamination surveys in the mine. The large air movement associated with the ceiling collapse could have moved and re-deposited contamination within the underground. It is also of note that before the ceiling fall happened, WIPP officials rolled back safety protocols to allow people in the underground without breathing protection in some areas. Workers were not in the underground when the fall took place but there just as easily could have been staff in the underground when this happened. We had previously urged the adoption of actual safety enclosures for workers in the underground. Such a system could be crucial for workers in the underground if there is another barrel event or major collapse.
7. Project Reach
This effort to scan and inspect the barrels in room 7 where the barrel explosion took place has been conducted. Data and images of this work have been seriously limited. They released a very brief video in February of the work being conducted but none of the results.
8. Conflicts of interest
The mayor of Carlsbad has a “nuclear task force” of public and private individuals assembled towards the promotion of nuclear facilities related to the town. Among those members is John Heaton. Mr. Heaton is a director of Carlsbad’s economic development office. Mr Heaton has been a constant fixture at the WIPP town hall meetings. In previous meetings Mr. Heaton has berated journalists repeatedly for not publishing what he thought they should about the situation at WIPP. In the most recent WIPP town hall Mr. Heaton had a minor freak out when someone used the word “explosion” to describe the explosion in the suspect barrels at WIPP. Mr. Heaton is a former state legislator and a retired pharmacist.
Mr. Heaton is the president of the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance. In 2012 this legal entity became business partners with Areva to build a spent nuclear fuel storage facility near Carlsbad. This alliance company is registered as an LLC private corporation but that was disputed by state officials and an audit demanded as the state considers the business to in some way also be public due to the ownership by the two involved cities. This private corporation owned by the two cities with Mr. Heaton as the president purchased 1000 acres of land seven miles north of WIPP to try to get a federal grant to do site surveys for a future spent fuel reprocessing plant. The alliance received a million dollars of taxpayer money from the US Dept. of Energy to do this survey but didn’t win the eventual facility. Areva also has a stake in the contractors that run WIPP (B&W/URS). Unlike a registered non profit or public entity, the LLC designation makes executive pay and other financial information unavailable for public scrutiny, even though the company has gained at least a million in taxpayer dollars. The state audit did require some of the company’s financial activities to be divulged. The audit found some deficiencies in how financial documents were kept and also showed what may be going on inside this LLC. They had over a million dollars in land holdings in 2012. 2013 showed about $100,000 given to the LLC by “members”. 2013 also found deficiencies including missing financial records. 2014 showed a $27,152 payment to a supplier but provided no detail what that was for.
The mayor’s nuclear task force has been heavily promoting nuclear related facilities to come to the area. The intensity with which the city’s government has been catering to the industry in itself creates great conflict of interest concerns.
Also noted in these findings was that Russel Hardy is the treasurer of the city’s economic development board along with Mr. Heaton (director). Mr. Hardy’s name may sound familiar as he is the person who runs the “independent” DOE funded facility charged with radiological oversight of WIPP at the local university campus. This same facility is in charge of providing radiation scans to WIPP workers and the local community.
9. Carlsbad Pushes Premature Reopening
A push to waive state fines and move the reopening of WIPP up was approved by this same development board that many of these now familiar names sit on. They also want a compliance order resolved between the state and WIPP.
“The resolution suggests that the money used to pay the fines come from “newly appropriated funds, or other sources that does not affect the operating budget of the site or its mission.”
Also known as more federal taxpayer money. This push by the political players in Carlsbad to get WIPP out of the dog house with the state again shows the kind of problematic relationships going on in the area.
10. Federal Facilities
This has been an issue tangled in the aftermath of the problems at WIPP. This facility and those the movers and shakers in Carlsbad hoped to bring to the area are federally funded facilities. This means the money comes from US taxpayers all over the country. This fact has been lost on many involved in the public facing activities related to the response to the events at WIPP. Public meetings have been allowed to be run by the city where anyone not from the local area has been considered to be outsiders.
There is a public meeting tonight at 5:30pm CST available via LiveStream that will feature some of the accident investigation work at WIPP.
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