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Los Alamos National Laboratory May Have Incorrectly Disposed of Radioactive Waste

FILE - Crews from Waste Control Specialists load the first of two containers with low-level radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

One of the premier nuclear weapons laboratories in the United States may have incorrectly disposed of radioactive waste before shipping it to an underground repository in southern New Mexico.

A report made public Wednesday states that not all of Los Alamos National Laboratory's procedures were properly vetted and some procedures did not conform to environmental requirements.

Operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant were suspended in February after an accident released high levels of radiation and contaminated 22 workers.

Findings from a preliminary investigation of the accident suggest at least one barrel of plutonium-tainted waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory near Santa Fe ruptured after being stored at the underground dump.

The facility is where radiological debris from U.S. nuclear labs and weapons sites is disposed of in a salt mine one kilometer below ground.

The facility could begin disposing of waste already in place at the complex in the southeastern New Mexico desert as early as 2016, but the projected cost for activities like decontamination that will allow the plant to resume initial operations is about $240 million.

However, the facility may not be fully operational until 2019 because a long-term recovery plan calls for a new ventilation system and exhaust shaft in the salt mine. The costs of those upgrades were not immediately available.

Top government scientists have been unable to replicate a chemical reaction that generated excessive levels of heat and breached at least one barrel of waste from Los Alamos whose mix of nitrate salts and organic matter was not permitted for disposal in the salt mine, according to state and federal regulators.