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On Thursday the contractor in charge of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project [WIPP] facility outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico demoted its Nuclear Waste Partnership division president Farok Sharif, and named Bob McQuinn to the leadership position. This comes in the wake of not one but two major 'incidents' at the high-level nuclear waste repository during the month of February. The first a salt truck fire that forced evacuation of the underground facility on February 7th, the second a radiation leak on February 14th so far attributed variously to a ceiling collapse in a storage cavern, a forklift-operating ghost, and one or more 'exploding barrels' of transuranic waste.

The move comes following the contamination of workers with plutonium, americium and other actinide waste and discovery of transuranic isotopes in air samples nearly 30 miles from the DOE facility. It also was publicly announced just hours before the contractor, San Francisco-based URS Corporation, released a scathing investigatory report detailing the many systemwide failures that led to the first emergency (truck fire) on February 7th. The criticism included deficiencies in emergency training and responses, finding that the incident was in fact "preventable." A report on the February 14th radiation release is expected in a "few weeks," according to the DOE's lead investigator, Ted Wyka. When they 'hope' to have achieved entry into the underground to see what's what. Maybe. Or not.

DOE Carlsbad Field Office Manager Joe Franko "choked up" as he faced the public at a meeting in Carlsbad on March 13th. "It's one of those things, being part of the family, one of those things that's a little tough," he said.

"But I think what's important (is) we definitely got away with not ... having anyone seriously hurt. So we need to learn from that. It is what I wanted to hear, and I wanted the truth. We don't need any sugar-coating," Franko choked with just the appropriate degree of emotionalism - but not too much - to the audience of area residents while sugar-coating their serious concerns.

The project enjoys $5 billion a year in direct DOE funding, obviously not something any contractor's designed-to-order subdivision would be willing to forego just when problems most need to be downplayed and dismissed to the exposed public.

That will be reassuring to some, I'm sure. It is not the least bit reassuring to me.

Meanwhile, back in Godzilla-Land... we find the ex-chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, lobbying for a world-wide phase-out of nuclear power plants. Jaczko has proven to be a hit on the speaking circuit in Japan as that nation debates what role - if any - nuclear power should play in its energy future.

While Jaczko is for some of us old-timers a 'Johnny Come-Lately' to the understanding that this technology is fatally flawed and thus extremely dangerous, I for one welcome him to the fold of knowledgeable people who don't subscribe to the nuclear cult's fairy tale pseudo-reality.

The more the merrier, Greg. Garlic and silver bullets are useless against this particular contingent of the Undead. We're going to have to work together best we can.

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