The Los Angeles Times is estimating that an explosion that occurred at a New Mexico nuclear waste dumping facility in 2014 could cost upwards of $2 billion to clean up.
Construction began on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico’s Carlsbad desert in the 1980s (PDF). The site was built to handle transuranic waste from the US’ nuclear weapons program. The WIPP had been eyed to receive nuclear waste from commercial, power-generating plants as well.
According to the LA Times, the 2014 explosion at the WIPP was downplayed by the federal government, with the Department of Energy (DoE) putting out statements indicating that cleanup was progressing quickly. Indeed, a 2015 Recovery Plan insisted that “limited waste disposal operations” would resume in the first quarter of 2016. Instead, two years have passed since the incident without any indication that smaller nuclear waste cleanup programs around the US will be able to deliver their waste to the New Mexico facility any time soon.
Ars contacted the DoE for comment and has not received a response. We will update this article if we hear back.
The 2014 explosion apparently occurred when engineers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were preparing a drum of plutonium and americium waste—usually packed with kitty litter (yes, kitty litter)—and decided to “substitute an organic material for a mineral one.”
“The new material caused a complex chemical reaction that blew the lid off a drum, sending mounds of white, radioactive foam into the air and contaminating 35 percent of the underground area,” the LA Times wrote. The dump’s filtration system, which was supposed to “prevent any radioactive releases,” subsequently failed.
No workers were …