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More Radiation Escapes New Mexico Nuclear-Waste Facility

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad, N.M.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad, N.M. // Susan Montoya Bryan/AP

Sensors at a U.S. atomic-waste repository in New Mexico have detected a second release of radiation in less than a month, the Associated Press reports.

A brief spike in radioactivity readings occurred on March 11 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the Energy Department said this week. The incident followed a Feb. 14 leak that exposed 17 personnel to contaminants and rendered underground portions of the site inaccessible to workers.

The department said the quantity of newly escaped radiation was "very small," and appeared unlikely to affect the site's surroundings, employees or neighboring communities.

Specialists suggested that radioactive material from the earlier leak had accumulated in the facility's air shafts and later became dislodged, according to an Energy news release. The source of the February escape remains unclear, but the site's operator previously suggested that a tunnel collapse or forklift accident might have breached a waste container.

The Feb. 14 leak came days after a vehicle in the burial site caught fire. Site administrators have dismissed any possibility of a connection between the two incidents.

Equipment at the facility recorded an elevated level of the radioactive element americium on March 11, according to the Energy Department's Tuesday statement.

"Samples collected at the same monitoring station, both prior to and for 72 hours after this release, have indicated background levels," the document states.

The department said it would provide updates on site radiation levels every Thursday.

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