LANL officials downplayed waste’s dangers even after leak
This is a very detailed article about Los Alamos National Labs and how the “kitty litter” disaster, otherwise known as an underground explosion in a canister of nuclear waste resulting in aboveground releases of radioactive isotopes, at WIPP could have possibly been allowed to happen. The story proves that truth is not only stranger than fiction, it can be more frightening in its implications than the scariest horror story. In this case, the story has no true end as potentially thousands of these barrels of nuclear waste with volatile as opposed to the mandated inert, clay based, kitty litter are now out there with nothing that distinguishes them from properly stored waste containers both at WIPP and likely at the waste repository in Texas. Like the industry itself, they are accidents that don’t always wait to happen.
Excerpt from this excellent article that must be read in full: “For Los Alamos National Security LLC, the private consortium that operates the lab, the stakes were high. Meeting the deadline would help it secure an extension of its $2.2 billion annual contract from the U.S. Department of Energy.
But the following summer, workers packaging the waste came across a batch that was extraordinarily acidic, making it unsafe for shipping. The lab’s guidelines called for work to shut down while the batch underwent a rigid set of reviews to determine how to treat it, a time-consuming process that jeopardized the lab’s goal of meeting the deadline.
Instead, the lab and its various contractors took shortcuts in treating the acidic nuclear waste, adding neutralizer and a wheat-based organic kitty litter to absorb excess liquid. The combination turned the waste into a potential bomb that one lab chemist later characterized as akin to plastic explosives, according to a six-month investigation by The New Mexican.
The lab then shipped a 55-gallon drum of the volatile material 330 miles to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation’s only underground repository for nuclear waste, southeast of Carlsbad. Documents accompanying the drum, which were supposed to include a detailed description of its contents, were deeply flawed. They made no mention of the acidity or the neutralizer, and they mischaracterized the kitty litter as a clay-based material — not the more combustible organic variety that most chemists would have recognized as hazardous if mixed with waste laden with nitrate salts, according to interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents and internal emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.”
Read full article here