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Officials Maintain Nuclear Leak from New Mexico Plant Poses No Health Risk Despite Elevated Levels of Radiation in the Air

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | February 26, 2014 5:17 PM EST

Officials from the U.S. Department of Energy continued to maintain the nuclear leak that came out from a nuclear waste plant in New Mexico poses no hazards to the health of nearby residents, even as levels of airborne radioactivity had been found to be "slightly elevated."

REUTERS
A radiation monitor indicates 73.20 microsieverts per hour at the site of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture, November 12, 2011.

Joe Franco, manager of the department's the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, assured more than 250 residents who attended a 2-hour meeting that "there is no risk from this event that would be a hazard to you or your children."

But residents continued to remain skeptical. "I feel like they are not telling us everything," Leah Hunt told AP.

While officials admit the levels of airborne radioactivity had been elevated, these do not pose any risks more than a dental X-ray or an airline flight.

"These concentrations remain well below a level of public or environmental hazard," the U.S. Department of Energy said in a statement.

The department issues its pronouncement based on the results of samples collected on Feb 17 and 18. The leak at the WIPP was reported on Feb 14.

Mr Franco said numerous air, soil and water samples have been collected on and around the WIPP site since the radiological event happened on Valentine's Day.

Samples were collected from several air monitoring stations on and around the WIPP site. After collecting the filters at each station, initial on-site analyses are completed before the samples are sent to the WIPP laboratories for more detailed final analyses. It usually takes about a week to analyse a set of samples and prepare preliminary data at the WIPP laboratories. There are also on-site air monitors that trigger an alarm in real time if airborne radioactive material is detected.

"There are no shortcuts," Mr Franco said. "Our scientists and technicians must complete detailed, comprehensive protocols to ensure the information we produce is accurate," he added.

State authorities from New Mexico assured residents radiation levels will continue to be monitored.

"The New Mexico Environment Department and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center continue to monitor radiation levels and will notify the public of any health threats," Jim Winchester, a spokesman for the state office, said.

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(Photo: REUTERS / Kyodo)
A radiation monitor indicates 73.20 microsieverts per hour at the site of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima prefecture, November 12, 2011.
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