ow it’s official: using the wrong kitty litter can cause a severe and expensive nuclear accident at the nation’s unique underground radioactive waste containment facility, shutting it down indefinitely.
What’s NOT official yet is why the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) used organic kitty litter that caused the nuclear waste accident in the first place, or why LANL used that kitty litter in some 678 other drums of radioactive nuclear weapons waste now located at LANL and other locations. It’s also NOT official that the wrong kitty litter was deliberately and deceitfully used for more than a year. Nor is it yet clear why the federal government, having violated New Mexico environmental laws, refuses to pay the state $54 million in fines for federal law-breaking.
Last winter, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) appointed a Technical Assessment Team of independent experts from other government labs, and the team spent most of a year investigating the 2014 Valentine’s Day radiation-release accident at New Mexico’s federal Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP). On March 26, 2015, the team produced a 277-page report that concluded that radiation was released from the facility when a single container (Drum 68660) over-heated and failed because the nuclear weapons waste it contained was packed with the wrong kind of kitty litter. That kitty litter was “chemically incompatible” with the other contents of the drum, causing it to overheat, creating gases that forced open the lid in a “thermal runaway” that led to the spill that released radiation to the environment and that still renders a large section of the underground storage area lethal to humans.
The assessment team concluded that the February 14, 2014, drum failure took about 70 days to develop before the drum was breached. The accident released radioactive isotopes of Uranium, Plutonium, and Americium in uncertain amounts that are officially thought to be relatively small. As of early April 2015, Drum 68660 is the only drum that has failed. The experts determined that there were other containers in which radioactive waste was packed with the wrong kitty litter, and that any of these might fail, although they say they believe another failure is unlikely.