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Shoddy Maintenance, Lack of Spending Blamed For Nuclear Dump Fire

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Contractor Ripped For Sub-Standard Practices

THE UNDERGROUND FIRE AT THE CARLSBAD, New Mexico, nuclear waste storage facility was caused by the maintenance and operations contractor’s negligence according the investigator’s report released Thursday.

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The fire in a salt truck on February 5 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) caused a full shutdown and evacuation of the underground complex.  For the background story of the incident see the Firegeezer REPORT HERE.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reported yesterday:

The fire originated in the truck’s engine compartment when either hydraulic fuel or diesel fuel made contact with the catalytic converter, according to an accident investigation report released Friday morning by the DOE. Accident investigation chairman Ted Wyka spoke to Carlsbad residents during a town hall meeting on Thursday evening before the report was released.

The vehicle’s operator reported seeing “an orange glow and then flames between the engine and the dump sections of the truck” shortly after unloading salt. The unidentified operator then tried to extinguish the blaze first with a portable fire extinguisher and then tripped the vehicle’s manual fire suppression system, but neither action extinguished the flame.

The fire burned the engine compartment and consumed the front tires, accounting for the black and gray smoke that was seen escaping through the salt handling shaft outside of WIPP. The EIMCO Model 985 vehicle was 29 years old and had a buildup of salt residue and other combustibles that increased the likelihood of a fire, according to the DOE accident investigation report.

In addition, the DOE found one of the contributing causes of the fire to be an accumulation of combustible materials in the underground that exceeded limits specified by the Fire Hazard Analysis.

“The Board identified the root cause of this accident to be the failure of Nuclear Waste Partnership and the previous management and operations contractor to adequately recognize and mitigate the hazard regarding a fire in the underground,” the executive summary stated, calling NWP’s fire protection program “less than adequate.”

The damning report led to the immediate demotion and transfer of the  president and project manager of the site.  There were ten contributing factors that led to the mishap, according to the report including:

The DOE Carlsbad Field Office was negligent in holding NWP accountable to cleanup potential hazards despite repeated deficiencies reported to the CBFO by outside agencies such as the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board emergency management.

DOE’s Washington D.C. headquarters was also blamed for not holding the CBFO accountable and generally poor oversight. The agency’s headquarters was also blamed for failing to provide the Carlsbad office with adequate funding for hiring staff, maintaining equipment and infrastructure needs.

Other negligences included failure to properly keep the salt trucks cleaned and others covered in more detail in the Current-Argus ARTICLE HERE.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • tgaglierd

    Fire at WIPP Site:
    Absolutely all you have to do is read the summery report of the full report. The major hazards were life safety emergency response and emergency response planning (lack of). And everyone is so worried about a little air born radioactive material.
    If they cant handle this type of material God Help us when the open Yuca Mountian.
    You have to keep the pressure on or they wont do it right!