Fire prompts evacuation of WIPP plant

Posted at: 02/05/2014 12:03 PM
Updated at: 02/05/2014 6:25 PM
By: Lauren Hansard, KOB Eyewitness News 4

There was an emergency Wednesday at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, known as WIPP, east of Carlsbad when a truck caught fire nearly a half-mile underground.

KOB Eyewitness News 4 went to Carlsbad where they don’t take these situations lightly.

All of the workers underground were evacuated safely; six workers were taken to a hospital in Carlsbad for smoke inhalation. 

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, but it was enough to shut down the plant for the rest of the week.

It happened around 11 a.m., when a salt truck caught fire underground, forcing nearly 50 workers to evacuate.

WIPP Spokesperson Roger Nelson said the fire was not near nuclear materials but these situations can be very dangerous.

“I mean these are events that could potentially harm people, our workers, as well as it give us a bad reputation because we appear to have made a mistake," said Nelson.

WIPP is an expansive facility that disposes of radioactive materials from nuclear weapons.

Nelson said they are not explosive but, "inhalation is the primary hazard with radioactive materials of this nature."

Nelson said this is one of the most serious incidents since the plant opened in 1999.

“It is a serious incident and we are definitely going to take our time to understand why and how it happened and make sure that it never happens again," said Nelson.

All WIPP operations have stopped while the cause of the fire is investigated.

The workers who were checked out at the hospital have been released.