ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Federal officials Thursday confirmed a leak of nuclear waste at a southeastern New Mexico repository, but it could be weeks before workers can safely access the underground dump to determine what happened.

The release of radiation from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant poses no immediate public health threat, officials emphasized, but the state environment secretary said he was concerned with the lag in getting information about the incident.

The radiation leak potentially affects 14 million residents in New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua (Mexico). If the leak is as bad as some experts speculate, then the effect to the multi-state area could be much like a "dirty bomb", rendering El Paso, Las Cruces, Midland/Odessa, Ciudad Juarez, and other major North American cities inhabitable for decades to come.

This undated photo is of the above-ground nuclear waste facility at Los Alamos.

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