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Workers test positive for elevated radiation levels 

Pennsylvania workers may have noted news of radiation exposure at a radioactive waste disposal plant. A radiation leak at the underground nuclear waste dump in New Mexico on Feb. 14 has impacted 13 workers who have tested positive for radiation exposure at elevated levels. Increased radioactivity has also been detected just outside the plant, but it is not a threat to public safety, according to officials. The leak is the first such incident since the site began accepting nuclear waste from bomb-building facilities around the country about 15 years ago.

The president of the Nuclear Waste Partnership, the entity that operates the plant, says that it may be weeks before it is possible to get underground to inspect the area to determine the source of the radiation. He spoke at a community meeting in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and suggested that a ceiling collapse or a forklift puncturing a container could have caused the problem. The event occurred only nine days after another incident in which a truck hauling salt caught fire. The company asserts that the two incidents are not related in any way.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Project is jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Nuclear Waste Partnership. In a joint statement that was made on Feb. 26, the DOE and the contractor emphasized that any test results were preliminary and that more information would be forthcoming.

If the radiation exposure that was measured in the 13 workers from the plant can be shown to produce harmful effects either short-term or long-term, they will be considered to have suffered a workplace injury that is typically covered by workers' compensation laws. Such laws typically address the costs of medical care and lost wages. Because the sources of delayed conditions can be harder to prove, it may be necessary to have extensive documentation drawn up as soon as possible.

Source: USA Today, "13 exposed to radiation at U.S. plant", February 27, 2014

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