Nuclear leak at WIPP in New Mexico
Nuclear leak at WIPP in New Mexico

More radiation has been detected in the atmosphere following a leak at a nuclear waste dump in New Mexico.

The US Department of Energy said multiple air tracking stations around the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad were monitoring the situation after samples found "slightly elevated" levels of airborne radioactivity.

WIPP managers were forced to suspend operations at the plant after the radiation levels were detected.

A government statement said the samples "showed a potential dose of less than one millirem at each of the environmental sampling locations". That was equvialent to a 10th of the amount a person would receive from a chest X-ray.

It continued: "The average person living in the United States receives an annual dose of about 620 millirem from exposure to naturally occurring and other sources of radiation."

More than 250 worried residents quizzed plant bosses at a two-hour community meeting on the imminent dangers to health.

Resident Anna Hovrud said: "My first reaction was to start praying. I am not understanding about two-thirds of what has been said here. Is there a chance we could be exposed to radiation, that we are being poisoned somehow, while we are waiting for these samples?"

Joe Franco of the Department of Energy said: "There is no risk from this event that would be a hazard to you or your children."

Farok Sharif of the Nuclear Waste Partnership, the organisation that operates the plant, boasted that he had been collecting readings at the WIPP without wearing safety gear. "Because I know it is safe," he explained.

Mayoral candidate Martin Mills, however, was not satisfied by the management's response.

He said: "This is poor management. How can this facility be leaking? It should not be releasing at all."

WIPP stores plutonium-contaminated waste 600 metres underground.