HOUSTON, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday pledged to reopen a nuclear waste repository in New Mexico as soon as possible, several months after a major radiation leak shut it down, media reports said.
Moniz made the remarks during his visit to the the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico Monday, local radio KUNM reported.
He said investigators are getting closer to identifying the cause of the leak and hope to have a plan in place for reopening the mine by the end of next month.
WIPP has been shuttered since Feb. 14 when sensors detected the leak. A total of 22 workers were confirmed to be exposed to low levels of radiation, though none faced health risks.
The underground dump stores transuranic waste leftover from nuclear weapons research and testing from the nation's past defense activities. The waste includes clothing, tools, rags and other debris contaminated with radioactive elements, largely plutonium.
It is not yet clear what exactly caused the leak. A leading theory is that a change of kitty litter, mixed in the waste to absorb moisture, triggered a chemical reaction inside at least one container stored at the underground dump, which consequently led to the radiation release.
Officials have been tight-lipped about the anticipated cost of rehabilitating WIPP following the leak. Earlier, they said it could take the Federal government two years or more to seal off the underground rooms where several hundred waste containers are stored. And a full resumption of operations could take up to three years.