The Latest: Watchdogs concerned about push to open nuke dump

AP News
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Posted: Dec 22, 2016 3:32 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Latest on New Mexico regulators approving the reopening of the nation's only underground nuclear waste dump (all times local):

1:35 p.m.

Watchdog groups are concerned the federal government is rushing to reopen its underground nuclear waste dump after a radiation leak, saying numerous safety violations have yet to be addressed.

The U.S. Energy Department is one step closer to resuming some operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico after state regulators gave their approval following an inspection.

Letters from the state say two minor violations were found, including the location of a safety shower and the need for clear labeling on waste containers. Regulators said they were quickly fixed.

Don Hancock with the Southwest Research and Information Center says the state Environment Department should have looked closer at the implications of inadequate ventilation and the accuracy of air monitoring underground to ensure worker safety.

He also pointed to a recent federal report that found vulnerabilities in the facility's radiological protection program.

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12:30 p.m.

New Mexico regulators have approved restarting normal operations at the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository, a major step for U.S. officials aiming to reopen the facility nearly three years after a radiation leak.

Two letters obtained Thursday by The Associated Press outline the state Environment Department's findings from a recent inspection of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Regulators found two minor permit violations but say those have been addressed.

The facility has been closed since a radiation release in February 2014 contaminated much of the underground disposal area. Shipments of waste at national laboratories and other defense sites nationwide have been piling up during the shutdown.

The U.S. Energy Department has been pushing to resume limited operations before year's end, but it still needs to address numerous issues identified in a separate readiness review.