ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) The reopening of the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository nearly three years after a radiation leak marks a key step toward cleaning up a decadeslong legacy of bomb-making and research, but the U.S. energy secretary said more needs to be done before a backlog of contaminated material starts heading to the New Mexico desert again.
The radiation release halted work at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and derailed a multibillion-dollar cleanup program, raising questions about oversight across the U.S. nuclear weapons complex and leading waste to build up at sites around the country.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told The Associated Press that sweeping changes have been made to improve safety and that hard work by employees and technological advancements over the last three years should bolster public confidence in cleanup efforts following the 2014 leak.
Officials shut down the repository in February 2014 after a chemical reaction inside a drum of inappropriately packed waste caused the lid to burst, contaminating some disposal vaults, corridors and air shafts.
Moniz acknowledged that the closure caused a backlog of waste at sites including northern New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where the basic materials used to fabricate nuclear weapons were produced.