An underground nuclear waste facility in southeast New Mexico must address serious mistakes identified by investigators after a February radiation leak before it can reopen.
The errors are highlighted in report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The report reveals that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, outside Carlsbad lacked staff with sufficient expertise in nuclear waste management.
"We made some mistakes. We're going to have to strengthen some of the programs," said Bob McQuinn, the WIPP project manager in charge of restoring the facility.
According to the findings, an inadequate filtration system allowed a small amount of radiation to seep to the surface after an underground leak in mid-February. It took the crew ten hours before taking emergency action such as sheltering employees.
As a result, 21 workers were exposed to radiation. Officials said both the surface contamination and the worker exposure were not enough to cause health problems.
Interviews with staff detailed in the report indicate employees did not feel comfortable discussing safety issues with their supervisors and safety training at the facility was inadequate.
In a public meeting Wednesday, McQuinn listed some of the actions he has taken to turn the facility around. He brought on a managment team of that specializes in nuclear waste and said employees undergo emergency drills twice a week.
These and other changes will be evaluated by at least two outside groups before the Department of Energy will allow the facility to reopen.
The cause of the Feb. 14 leak is still under investigation.