Wrong Choice of Kitty Litter May Have Led to Exploding Nuclear Waste Drum
A typo in a Los Alamos National Laboratory policy manual, specifying organic rather than inorganic kitty litter to absorb extra liquids in a drum of nuclear waste, may have turned that drum into a bomb at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
The pilot project “is now shut down, awaiting a $500 million recovery plan that could take years,” Gizmodo reports, citing a story in the Santa Fe New Mexican. When Waste Drum 68660 exploded, “temperatures rose to 1600 F in WIPP’s underground cavern, and 20 workers were exposed to low levels of radiation.”
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Although “the exact conditions of the explosion have not been recreated in a lab,” Zhang writes, “the organic kitty litter has been under suspicion because it can release heat as it decomposes.”
The explosion “raises serious questions about the safety of nuclear waste storage, especially when you consider how ‘comically simplistic,’ to use the New Mexican‘s words, the explosion’s origins seems to be,” she notes. As the U.S. searches for nuclear waste disposal options that will be good for millennia, “forget 10,000 years—we’re barely storing nuclear waste safely now.” (h/t to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance for pointing us to this story)