In a mission ripped straight from the pages of a 1950s pulp sci-fi, crews descended into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, on Wednesday to begin investigating a mysterious radiation release that contaminated 21 workers in early February. The crews have already established an underground operations base, complete with communication lines and air monitors.
Troubles at the half-mile-deep nuclear waste dump began on February 5, when a truck caught fire, forcing shipments to the dump to stop. Nine days later, a leak from an unknown source sent low levels of radiation into the air, leading to a full closure of the repository. It is still unclear whether the incidents are related.
The closure is a big problem for Los Alamos National Laboratory a few hours north, which must remove nearly 4,000 barrels of radioactive waste from its campus before wildfire season peaks at the end of June. Much of that waste is now being stored at a West Texas facility until the dump can reopen. Pressure has been mounting on the Los Alamos facility, the notorious home of the Manhattan Project, to get rid of its nuclear waste after the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire nearly reached the facility, forcing the evacuation of nonessential personnel and threatening the integrity of its storage units.
There's no word yet on whether the leak has led to the formation of an underground mutant society.