An explosion at a nuclear waste dump in New Mexico two years ago is now looking like what might be one of the most expensive cleanups in US history, the Los Angeles Times reports. Long-term damage was far greater than federal officials let on after a drum filled with radioactive waste blew up at the nation’s only underground dump near Carlsbad in February 2014, a Times investigation finds, and the bill could top $2 billion—rivaling the cleanup after nation’s worst nuclear accident at Three Mile island in 1979. And with the New Mexico dump still offline, thousands of tons of radioactive waste are sitting in other states, delaying processing and angering local officials. “There is no question the Energy Department has downplayed the significance of the accident,” Don Hancock of the watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center, told the Times.
Promises by the Energy Department to quickly reopen the dump, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, have led to “poor safety practices” during the cleanup, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. The facility, which lies in salt caverns 2,000 feet below ground, was set to reopen in March, though the feds knew when they set that date they had a 1% chance of hitting it, an audit found. The dump is now set to reopen in December. Kitty litter was blamed for the blast, which blew the top off a drum filled with plutonium and americium waste. But that wasn't the only failing: Feds found some two dozen lapses at the dump, including the filtration system. As a result, some 35% of the ground area was contaminated and 21 workers exposed to low doses of radiation, per the Times. Says Hancock: "They are figuring out some of this as they go along.”