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Plutonium detected half-mile outside New Mexico nuclear waste facility

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plutonium detectedFour days after a radiation alert shut the nation’s only underground nuclear waste facility, an independent monitoring center said Wednesday it found radioactive isotopes in an air sensor about a half mile from the southeastern New Mexico plant.

A filter from a monitor northwest of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad had trace amounts of plutonium and americium, said Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center.

“It’s still below what EPA considers actionable levels, but it’s important to know that some material did get out of the facility,” Hardy told the Albuquerque Journal.

The levels are the highest ever detected at or around the site, he added.

A WIPP air monitor detected airborne radiation underground late Friday night, setting off an alert, the Journal reported. WIPP reported the next day that its ventilation system had immediately switched to filtration mode, minimizing any potential release of radiation.

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