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Quake shakes nuclear-waste space.

A moderate earthquake struck southeastern New Mexico on Jan. 2, centered about 60 kilometers from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the nation's first underground repository for storing nuclear waste. After examining the still-unopened site, investigators from the Department of Energy (DOE) concluded the quake did not damage the storage facility, which is carved out of a salt deposit 650 meters below ground. The quake measured 4.8 on the Richter scale and was centered near the town of Jal on the New Mexico-Texas border, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo. Randy Keller, a seismologist at the University of Texas at El Paso, suggests that oil drilling in the region may have triggered the quake.

Quakes of this size and distance from WIPP pose no danger to the facility, according to Keller. The repository is built to withstand a magnitude 5.5 shock directly under the site, says Pat Sallani of the DOE in Carlsbad.

Engineers designed WIPP to hold radioactive waste generated during the production of nuclear weapons. Last October, after years of delays, DOE declared itself ready to send the first bins of trash to WIPP as part of a testing phase (SN: 10/19/91, p.245), but the state of New Mexico filed a suit in federal court and, in late November, received a temporary injunction blocking any shipment. New Mexico officials argue that existing federal laws and administrative orders do not permit DOE to bring any radioactive waste to WIPP. Congress is considering legislation that would impose safeguards and restrictions on waste emplacement during the testing phase.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 18, 1992
Previous Article:Earthquakes: how big will they get?
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