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Questions Raised On Safety at WIPP

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There are some things we just leave up to the experts – that includes the science and research that goes into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the only-of-its-kind facility that stores transuranic radioactive waste from around the country.

What if we told you there are questions about the science of its long-term safety? KOB 4 spoke with a former scientist who said he lost his job after raising the red flag.

There’s an expectation, a reputation that follows the name Sandia National Labs. Its advanced scientific work is something many of us take for granted. Not Dr. Charles Oakes, who is a geochemist who used to work for Sandia National Labs in Carlsbad at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, also known as WIPP.

Part of his job was to make sure WIPP, and all of the transuranic radioactive waste stored inside, is safe for years to come.

“This is a case where they weren’t, not only were they not doing their job, they were claiming they were doing their job but falsifying all the evidence that went into the claims that they were doing the job,” Dr. Charles Oakes said.

From the outside, there’s not much to see at WIPP. That’s because all the waste is stored more than 2,000 feet below ground.

“WIPP is the only facility of its kind in the world, deep geologic repository for nuclear waste,” said Don Hancock, Director of the Nuclear Waste Program a Southwest Research and Information Center.

Hancock has served as a WIPP watchdog even before the first disposal at the Department of Energy site in 1999.

“Essentially what’s in WIPP are elements that are contaminated from the manufacturing of components in nuclear weapons, particularly the plutonium core, the heart of it,” said Hancock. “That includes machinery that includes gloves, and booties, that includes sludges.”

It might sound complex, but the key to safe storage of radioactive material is simple: accurate, reliable science and research. Regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency demand it.

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By: Brittany Costello for KOB4 4 Investigates

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