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New Mexico Cancels Permit To Expand Leaky Nuclear Waste Site


March 21 (Reuters) - New Mexico on Friday withdrew a temporary permit allowing two new disposal vaults at a U.S. government nuclear waste dump grappling with a release of radiation in February, state regulators said.

Seventeen workers at the Carlsbad-area "waste isolation pilot project" (WIPP) were exposed to radiation after an accidental leak last month from the site which stores waste from U.S. nuclear labs and weapons production facilities.

State regulators were withdrawing the draft expansion permit to identify safety issues that may need to be addressed in the aftermath of that accident, New MexicoEnvironment Secretary Ryan Flynn told a news conference on Friday afternoon.

"We need to proceed with caution (and) assess any additional risks posed to either workers or the public," Flynn said.

The draft permit would have allowed disposal of machinery, clothing and other items tainted with radioisotopes, like plutonium in two additional storage vaults and it granted changes to the way chambers filled to capacity are sealed.

No workers were underground at the U.S. Energy Department's site when air sensors half a mile below the surface triggered an alarm, indicating unsafe levels of radioactive particles.