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Nuclear Accident: Kitty Litter Caused Radiation Leak at New Mexico Plant

By    |   Friday, 27 Mar 2015 01:03 PM

A nuclear accident that occurred at New Mexico's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant last year was caused by the wrong brand of kitty litter, according to a new U.S. Department of Energy Report released this week.

Workers at the New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory had switched from inorganic clay litter to organic litter (many nuclear facilities use the substance to soak up liquid nuclear waste) and the new litter, "Swheat Scoop," was placed inside drum 68660, NPR reported.

The report stated that it was that drum that eventually burst open, causing the accident, which released radioactive uranium, plutonium, and americium throughout the underground facility at the pilot plant.

"Experiments showed that various combinations of nitrate salt, Swheat Scoop, nitric acid, and oxalate self-heat at temperatures below 100°C. Computer modeling of thermal runaway was consistent with the observed 70-day birth-to-breach of Drum 68660," the report concluded.

The State of New Mexico levied $54 million in fines against the Energy Department in December for state hazardous waste permits violations at the Los Alamos Pilot Plant, according to Reuters.

The news agency reported that federal inspectors cited chronic lapses in safety procedures, which contributed to the radiation leak.

"[The lab's] waste processing and safety-related control procedures should have prevented the addition of these potentially incompatible materials," federal inspectors wrote of the ruptured waste barrel, according to Reuters.

The Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC, the contractor that operates the pilot plant, stated that 22 workers were exposed to radiation during last February's accident but not in large enough amounts to affect their health.

Last September, the Energy Department announced that it was committed to cleaning up and continuing initial operations at the pilot plant as early as 2016, but the cleanup would cost $240 million or more, according to The Associated Press.

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A nuclear accident that occurred at New Mexico's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant last year was caused by the wrong brand of kitty litter, according to a new U.S. Department of Energy Report released this week.
nuclear, accident, kitty, litter
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2015-03-27
Friday, 27 Mar 2015 01:03 PM
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