Local News
3:18 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

Officials: Air In Underground Nuclear Waste Facility Is Safe, Fire Is Out

Transuranic waste being placed in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico.
Transuranic waste being placed in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico.
Credit Department of Energy

UPDATE 5:30p 2/6: Work has resumed at southeastern New Mexico's nuclear waste repository. But officials say they don't yet know what caused the truck fire that forced an evacuation of the underground site.

A spokesman says an investigation will be conducted at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, where low level waste from the nation's nuclear weapons plants is stored in salt beds.

The site was evacuated and six people were treated for smoke inhalation after a truck hauling salt caught fire Wednesday.

New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce characterized the event as a minor. And he emphasized that the fire never threatened radioactive waste or public safety.

WIPP is the nation's first and only deep geological nuclear waste repository. It takes plutonium-contaminated waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and other federal nuclear projects.

 

UPDATE 8:30a 2/6: Plant officials say a fire at the federal government's underground nuclear waste repository in southeastern New Mexico has been extinguished.

A news release and spokeswoman answering an emergency line late Wednesday say the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant's mine rescue team went into the underground site near Carlsbad and confirmed a fire in a truck hauling salt is out. The team also says the air is clear and safe to breathe.

Joint Information Center member Susan Scott says a second team is surveying the extent of the damage and that there's no information on the cause of the blaze or when the site would reopen.

Plant officials say all employees were evacuated from the underground site after the fire broke out about 11 a.m. Wednesday, and none of the radioactive waste was affected.

UPDATE 5:30p: Authorities say six people have been released from the hospital after being treated for smoke inhalation. 

Emergency officials say they are unsure what sparked the blaze at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, but all employees were evacuated and none of the radioactive waste has been impacted.

All operations at the site have been suspended indefinitely.

KOB-TV reports Representative Steve Pearce in a statement called the incident a "minor fire." 

"It is critically important to note that at no point did the fire threaten the waste disposed of at the WIPP, nor was the community or public ever at risk," he said.

KOAT-TV reports the fire is out. 

***  

An underground fire at a storage facility for nuclear waste in southern New Mexico has led to evacuations and trips to the hospital.

At 11:00am Wednesday, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico was evacuated due to an underground fire. 

According to the Department of Energy, the fire began when a truck hauling salt underground caught fire. Multiple people were taken to a local hospital due to smoke inhalation.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is the final resting place for transuranic radioactive waste left over from nuclear weapons production and research.

"There’s no risk of additional material being affected," said Roger Nelson, a spokesman for the Department of Energy. "In other words, there’s no radioactive waste or hazardous materials that are part of this event."

Nelson says, shipments of radioactive waste from around the country to the site have been temporarily halted, and that the fire will be allowed to run its course.