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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Feds detail cleanup plan for nuclear waste facility

Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday said it’s committed to cleaning up and resuming initial operations at the federal government’s troubled nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico as early as 2016, work that’s expected to cost more than $240 million.

The timeline and cost details were included in a recovery plan developed by the department over several months with help from nuclear industry experts. The plan outlines what needs to be done to decontaminate the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Shipments of plutonium-contaminated waste from federal installations around the country have been on hold since early February. That’s when a truck fire and an unrelated release of radiation several days later contaminated 22 workers and forced the closure of the plant.

Mark Whitney, acting assistant secretary for the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, said officials estimate that 90 percent or more of the nuclear waste dump is free of radiological contamination. But the ventilation system will need to be improved and a new exhaust shaft constructed before full operations can resume, Whitney said. That could take as long as three years and as much as an additional $309 million.

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