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Suspected Radiation Leak in Military's Nuclear Dumping Ground

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A New Mexico deep-earth repository for the U.S. military's nuclear waste has likely sprung an underground radiation leak, sparking concern among Native American communities and other residents who "carry the burden" of this state's nuclear legacy.

"Since the detonation and creation of first atomic bomb in New Mexico, we the people who live in close proximity of storage and creation of these weapons have been in a state of fear," said Kathy Wanpovi Sanchez, Environmental Health and Justice Program Manager for Tewa Women United, an indigenous organization based in northen New Mexico.

Over the weekend, abnormally high levels of radioactive particles were found underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico, where radioactive waste, including from nuclear weapons production, is dumped deep beneath the earth's surface and stored in salt formations.

"I believe it's safe to say we've never seen a level like we are seeing. We just don't know if it's a real event, but it looks like one," said Department of Energy spokesman Roger Nelson.

WIPP stores waste that releases alpha and beta radiation, which are highly cancerous when ingested, explained Arnie Gundersen, former nuclear industry executive turned whistleblower, in an interview with Common Dreams. DOE officials say radiation has not been detected in surface samples, and no workers have been exposed. They say they do not yet know the source of the suspected underground leak.

Gundersen says the technology behind WIPP is untested - hence the word "pilot" in the facility's title. "As a society, we believe that if you stick things in the earth, they are safe," he said. "But with radioactivity, it's not dead. It can come back to haunt you if there is a leak afterwards. This is alive."     


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