A U.S. Department of Energy spokesman said that not one, but four the 55-gallon drums of radioactive waste had been found ruptured or leaking in early April at a storage facility on the 890-square mile property of the Idaho National Laboratory.
The barrels all ruptured on the same day they were filled, according to an AP report.
Firefighters were called to the scene and three of them entered the building to “extinguish” a barrel that was smoldering. While they were inside the storage facility, personnel outsider of the building heard some of the barrels rupture, the AP said.
The likely origin of the waste was the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, a former weapons processing facility, but some of the waste might have originated elsewhere.
That waste was put into barrels in the 1960s and brought to Idaho, where the barrels were buried unlined pits. They were later exhumed for re-packaging. The new barrels – including about 9,500 that have already been filled – are being readied for shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.
While none of the previous 9,500 barrels filled have leaked or ruptured, the DOE is conducting a thorough investigation of what happened that caused four to burst or leak on the same day. The incidents occurred on April 11.
While the DOE considers the instances to be significant, the potential for a systems-wide backlog is possible, given the recent history at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, where one barrel burst in the underground repository in 2014, causing a shut down of the storage facility that lasted for three years.
Currently, shipments to New Mexico are continuing with certified barrels, 16 to a shipment, headed to the repository there three or four times per week.
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