Radiation leak report reveals serious problems

Valentine’s Day was anything but happy for workers at the at the Department of Energy’s New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] near Carlsbad Caverns. At 11;14 p.m., alarms shrieked warning of a radiation release from an exhaust vent moving air out of the underground storage facility.

Part of the waste stored in the interim facility [no permanent repository has yet been approved as each site, in turn, proved vulnerable to leaks] hailed from the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where UC scientists work with others to build next generation nuclear weaponry.

From the 18 October 2004 [PDF] edition of TRU Teamworks, the WIPP newsletter for employees:

In a true California-style send-off, the first shipment of TRU [transuranic — esnl] waste from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [LLNL] left the Golden State October 19 I n a downpour. The shipment and its payload of forty-two 55-gallon drums began the 1,400-mile trip to WIPP with a forecast of favorable weather and road conditions ahead.

More shipments were to follow.

And today the DOE released a major investigative report on the St. Valentine’s Day leak.

Here’s the press release:

Today, the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) released the initial accident investigation report related to the Feb. 14 radiological release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

“The Accident Investigation Board reviewed procedures related to safety, maintenance, and emergency management to better understand the aboveground events surrounding the radiological incident,” said Matt Moury, EM Deputy Assistant Secretary, Safety, Security, and Quality Programs. “The Department believes this detailed report will lead WIPP recovery efforts as we work toward resuming disposal operations at the facility.”

The report is comprised of two phases. The document released today includes the initial investigation that focused on the release of radioactive material from the underground facility into the environment and related exposure to aboveground workers, as well as the actions taken by Nuclear Waste Partnership, the management and operations contractor at WIPP, and federal employees in response to the release. Once entry teams determine the source of the radiological event, the board will gather additional information and release a supplemental report that focuses on the direct cause of the release and worker protection measures in the underground.

“This report will serve as guidance for the recovery team moving forward,” said, Joe Franco, DOE’s Carlsbad Field Office Manager. “We understand the importance of these findings, and the community’s sense of urgency for WIPP to become operational in the future. We are fully committed to pursuing this objective.”

WIPP has already begun implementing corrective actions to address many of the issues raised in the report. These include enhanced work planning, nuclear safety controls, deploying experienced supplemental contractor and federal staff to assist, and implementing additional senior contractor and federal oversight. A formal corrective action process will also be implemented to ensure that all of the issues raised in the report are addressed.

The 302-page report is available online here [PDF].

In skimming the document we were struck by the following graphic, which offers a shocking look at the apparent negligence of site operators and the sad state of critical equipment. Click on the image to embiggen:

Microsoft Word - Final WIPP Rad Release Phase 1 04 22 2014 r2 (2

Joel Pett: Supremely but unaffirmatively unctuous

The editorial cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader takes oin the Supreme Court decision to ban affirmative action in university admuissions:


Chart of the day: Online video class divisions

From the Pew Research Center, a report [PDF] on emerging distinctions in online video viewing, including online journalism reports. Click on the image to enlarge:


Hard times separatism, Italian style in Venice

Regional separatism is one of the common denominators of hard economic times, whether in ensl‘s own California or in the European Union.

Italy’s always had strong regional divisions, typically pitting the industrial north against the agrarian south [shades of America's own pre-Civil War economic divides].

This report from Deutsche Welle‘s European Journal takes a look at the separatist movement based in Venice, where would-be guerrillas armored a bulldozer and plotted to tear down statues of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the general who played a key role in Italian unification during the years America was fighting its own civil war.

Intriguingly, Venetia was one of the last holdouts in that unification.

From Deutsche Welle:

European Journal | Italy: Venetian Separatists

Program notes:

They’re demanding the independence of the Veneto region from the rest of Italy, and increasingly using violence: the radical separatists from the group known as “The Alliance.”

The Veneto is one of Italy’s wealthiest regions. But since the economic crisis, many people there are angry that their money is being spent to help the poorer south of the country. That’s grist to the mill for the separatists, who are becoming increasingly radical. Recently the Italian police broke up a group which had acquired weapons from the Albanian mafia and planned to declare Venetian independence on St. Mark’s Square.

Ad Campaign of the Year: Do It for Denmark!

Always nice when you can mix business with pleasure, and nobody’s done it better than Spies Rejser, a Danish travel agency that’s found a way to make a buck — er, kroner — on of the national demographic collapse that’s giving the country a strongly grey-haired tinge.

With the country aging, more babies are needed, and tavel is, after all, one of the great aphrodisiacs. right? So grab up a fertile partner of the opposite sex, snap up a ticket and Do It for Denmark!

Do It For Denmark!

The program note:

No one has found out how to help Denmark’s falling birth rate. Until now. Spies Travels announces a competition where you have to make a baby to win.

David Horsey: Space In-Vaders

The editorial cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times takes on the Koch borther campaign to shut down the solar power industry:


Another alarm, this time of death from above

First, the news stpry from BBC News:

Asteroid impact risks ‘underappreciated’

A visualisation showing where sizeable asteroids have hit the Earth in recent years has been released by the B612 Foundation.

The US-based group, which includes a number of former Nasa astronauts, campaigns on the issue of space protection.

It hopes the visualisation will press home the idea that impacts are more common than we think.

The presentation leans on data collected by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

More from the B612 Foundation:

Between 2000 and 2013, a network of sensors that monitors Earth around the clock listening for the infrasound signature of nuclear detonations detected 26 explosions on Earth ranging in energy from 1 to 600 kilotons – all caused not by nuclear explosions, but rather by asteroid impacts. These findings were recently released from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which operates the network.

To put this data in perspective, the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 exploded with an energy impact of 15 kilotons. While most of these asteroids exploded too high in the atmosphere to do serious damage on the ground, the evidence is important in estimating the frequency of a potential “city-killer-size” asteroid.

A list of the impacts shown in the video can be found here. For more information on this data, please check out our Impact Video FAQ. You can read or download the press release about [Tuesday]’s event here.

And finally, the video, via Vimeo:

B612 Impact Video 4-20-14 H264