Cat Litter’s Role in Nuclear Leak Still Unproven

June 30, 2014, 8:35 a.m.

U.S. labor­at­or­ies failed to rep­lic­ate a cat-lit­ter re­ac­tion hy­po­thes­ized to have rup­tured a stor­age drum in an un­der­ground nuc­le­ar-waste dump, Re­u­ters re­ports.

Neither Los Alam­os Na­tion­al Labor­at­ory in New Mex­ico nor any of the na­tion’s oth­er atom­ic re­search cen­ters have pro­duced the type of thermal re­ac­tion tent­at­ively blamed for a Feb­ru­ary con­tam­in­a­tion re­lease at the Waste Isol­a­tion Pi­lot Plant, En­ergy De­part­ment spokes­wo­man Lind­sey Geisler said on Fri­day. The breach was the­or­et­ic­ally caused by a cat-lit­ter and ni­trate-salt pack­ing mix placed in hun­dreds of waste bar­rels at the Los Alam­os fa­cil­ity.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know,” Geisler said. The waste com­plex near Carls­bad has re­mained largely off-lim­its since the re­lease spread ra­dio­act­ive particles to 22 work­ers earli­er this year.

The En­ergy De­part­ment is ex­amin­ing pos­sible al­tern­at­ive meth­ods of deal­ing with ma­ter­i­als pre­vi­ously sched­uled for ship­ment to the re­pos­it­ory, Geisler ad­ded.

Fully re­sum­ing op­er­a­tions at the sub­ter­ranean stor­age site may re­quire up to 36 months, ac­cord­ing to over­sight of­fi­cials. A lengthy re­cov­ery peri­od would raise ques­tions over how to handle waste con­tain­ers pre­vi­ously slated for ship­ment to the fa­cil­ity from Los Alam­os, Idaho Na­tion­al Labor­at­ory and oth­er loc­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to Re­u­ters.

Mean­while, the pos­sib­il­ity of a con­tam­in­a­tion threat from prob­lem­at­ic waste drums has fo­cused new at­ten­tion on a leg­al ac­tion against New Mex­ico’s state gov­ern­ment, the Santa Fe New Mex­ic­an re­por­ted on Fri­day. The South­w­est Re­search and In­form­a­tion Cen­ter’s 2-year-old law­suit chal­lenges New Mex­ico’s de­cision to per­mit use of a new type of waste con­tain­er without first con­sult­ing the pub­lic.

State en­vir­on­ment per­son­nel stood by their ac­tions in court last week, ac­cord­ing to the New Mex­ic­an.

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