Originally published May 29 2014
Officials blame nuclear waste facility explosion on 'stupid mistake' of switching to 'green' kitty litter absorbent
by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
(NaturalNews) The decision by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), a government-run nuclear testing facility in New Mexico, to go "green" with a new radiation absorption material may have caused an explosion that occurred several months ago at a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) storage facility. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that shipments of nuclear waste arriving at the stricken Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad may have exploded due to a form of green "kitty litter" that inadvertently produced highly-flammable nitrate salts.
As you may recall, a radiation leak was detected at WIPP back in February, the source of which was never conclusively determined. Now, a prominent nuclear expert has suggested that the cause of the leak may have been an explosion triggered by a wheat-based absorbent solution added to barrels containing the waste. The modified absorbent was used in place of typical clay-based absorbents, which are clearly much safer.
"I think it is the most likely cause, but there is still some room for doubt until they get to the drum that leaked," stated Jim Conca, a geochemist who for years worked at WIPP. "This was probably a stupid mistake by someone who didn't understand the chemistry of cat litter. Trying to be green doesn't excuse not talking to a nuclear chemist before you make that decision."
Conca, who now works as a senior scientist at UFA Ventures, a soil and rock testing company, believes the wheat-based absorbent may have improperly absorbed the nuclear waste in the barrels, resulting in the formation of dried-out nitrate salts. These salts may have caught a spark, resulting in a "mild" explosion in at least one waste container, and possibly more.
It is "an awfully good thing this drum was in WIPP when it went off because if it had been anywhere else, just think about what might have happened," added Conca, as quoted by the Santa Fe New Mexican. "So they need to act quickly, they need to corral all these drums and get them into WIPP right away, put them in Panel 7 and seal it off."
Other tainted radiation barrels in cavern could cause further problems, says expert Panel 7, which is where the air monitors earlier in the year detected the radiation leak, is a large cavern room at WIPP where waste containers are cordoned off and stored to prevent radiation leaks. If the kitty litter solution really was responsible for triggering the explosion, there could be many other barrels just waiting to pop in the cavern, hence Conca's urgency in pushing the issue to be resolved.
"It is incredibly important to act quickly," reiterated Conca, noting that the wheat-based absorbent sucks up moisture like a sponge, leaving residues behind. "You don't want to wait months and let the drums keep drying out. They need to be gathered quickly and get them to WIPP. By being stupid, we risk doing this wrong and making it worse."
In a recent statement, the DOE emphasized its commitment to solving the crisis and mitigating any further explosions or releases of radiation. At the same time, the agency is under intense pressure to have its own facility completely cleared out by June 30, the deadline it was issued by the state. In the interim, shipments from the facility have ceased while the investigation continues.
"The delays in being able to get things into WIPP, and now being able to get things to Waste Control Specialists in Texas, are very much a cause for concern, and I'm working very closely with the team," stated Charlie McMillan, director of LANL. "We have a very aggressive schedule, and to get everything off the site is certainly the goal, but it's too early to tell."
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