New report highlights shortcomings at WIPP

Posted at: 03/14/2014 6:37 PM
By: Lauren Hansard, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A recent report is shedding light on some serious problems at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

Last month, a salt truck caught fire a half mile underground at the WIPP plant.

The Department of Energy says it could have been prevented.

Investigators with the U.S. Department of Energy also found other issues with safety and training.

It’s detailed in a 187 page report.

According to the investigation, the salt truck fire that sent six workers to the hospital was preventable.

The report says the truck that caught fire was 29 years old and was not properly maintained.

They found a build-up of oil and other combustible materials on the truck that started the fire.

Federal officials also noted the fire suppression system on the truck had been deactivated.

But the report also found problems with the emergency response after the fire started.

It noted that the truck’s operator did not report the fire or its’ location to the proper authorities.

And not all workers heard an emergency alert to evacuate.

The report says, “Some workers learned of the fire and need to evacuate through the “chatter” on the mine phone, through co-workers, or through their supervisors.”

Twelve of the 40 phones in the mine didn’t work.

Investigators also say as smoke started to build underground, some workers trying to clear the smoke switched the ventilation system.

But instead of letting smoke out, it ended up spreading smoke to other areas of the facility.

The report concluded, "Response to the fire, including evaluation and protective actions, was less than adequate."

But it doesn’t end there.

While checking things out underground, investigators found large quantities of material staged haphazardly throughout the mine.

There was a significant build-up of engine and hydraulic oil on other mining equipment.

There was a 3-foot diameter puddle of hydraulic fluid found underneath another salt truck.

The plant has remained closed since the fire on February 5.

On Thursday, officials at WIPP announced the President, Farok Sharif, was being replaced.

He’s been replaced by Bob McQuinn, the former head of nuclear operations at Los Alamos National Lab.

WIPP officials have said before the fire is not connected to a radiation leak that happened a little more than a week after.

Officials have not said when the plant will reopen.