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Earth Power Idle Science

Organic Cat Litter May Have Caused Nuclear Waste Accident 174

mdsolar (1045926) writes in with a story about how important buying the right kind of kitty litter can be. "In February, a 55-gallon drum of radioactive waste burst open inside America's only nuclear dump, in New Mexico. Now investigators believe the cause may have been a pet store purchase gone bad. 'It was the wrong kitty litter,' says James Conca, a geochemist in Richland, Wash., who has spent decades in the nuclear waste business. It turns out there's more to cat litter than you think. It can soak up urine, but it's just as good at absorbing radioactive material. 'It actually works well both in the home litter box as well as the radiochemistry laboratory,' says Conca, who is not directly involved in the current investigation. Cat litter has been used for years to dispose of nuclear waste. Dump it into a drum of sludge and it will stabilize volatile radioactive chemicals. The litter prevents it from reacting with the environment. And this is what contractors at Los Alamos National Laboratory were doing as they packed Cold War-era waste for shipment to the dump. But at some point, they decided to make a switch, from clay to organic. 'Now that might sound nice, you're trying to be green and all that, but the organic kitty litters are organic,' says Conca. Organic litter is made of plant material, which is full of chemical compounds that can react with the nuclear waste. 'They actually are just fuel, and so they're the wrong thing to add,' he says. Investigators now believe the litter and waste caused the drum to slowly heat up 'sort of like a slow burn charcoal briquette instead of an actual bomb.' After it arrived at the dump, it burst."
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Organic Cat Litter May Have Caused Nuclear Waste Accident

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  • More Cold War Waste (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:03PM (#47094825)
    It should be noted that this waste is from cold war era defense programs, and not used commercial nuclear fuel which is much easier to handle and store. It should also be noted that although the writers make every effort to call the WIPP a "dump" in order to conjure up images of a simple landfill, it is actually an underground geological (saltbed) monitored storage facility created for storage of radioactive waste.

    Unlike chemical from many industries that are dumped in many places with much less control, this is an example of quick recognition and response to a problem. Cold war nuclear waste comes in all kinds of nasty liquid, solid, and semi-solid forms and will continue to bring challenges as the slow cleanup slog continues.

    Of course, this slashdot submission is one of an ongoing number of agenda driven submissions that intends to obfuscate the challenges of cold ware era defense program neglect with commercial nuclear power. Fortunately, most slashdot readers pick up on the obvious.
  • I still cant log in! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:06PM (#47094845)

    You still have a bad cert, Slashdot. What's going on?

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:42PM (#47095143) Journal
    It's considered a nuisance in this context because it's largely inert (and often formulated for absorbency and clumping, so people are advised not to flush it): Once used, the clay just adds weight and bulk to the solid waste stream and won't be going anywhere in approximately geologic time. Aside from very modest risks from mineral dusts, it's harmless enough; but it's not wildly efficient to landfill something that's mostly clay just to deal with animal feces that would degrade in a few weeks to months under proper conditions.
  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:54PM (#47095253)
    This is unrelated to "nuclear energy" and was for bombs.
  • by brambus ( 3457531 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @06:46PM (#47095513)
    First off, this is from the weapons program, not power. Also, not all waste is created equal. Drums are only used for low level stuff - think lab coats, glassware, tools, etc. that at some point might have come into contact with radioactive stuff and so can have trace residue on it. This is *NOT* spent fuel. If you had cared to read the original articles, you'd know that the incident was the first in this facility's 15 year history, wasn't their fault, was extremely small, was immediately contained and rootcaused so that corrective measures could be taken. From where I'm standing, this is a good example of safety working as intended. Unlike your average coal ash spill [].
  • by ckedge ( 192996 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @11:12PM (#47096813) Journal

    The "organics" did not react with the "nuclear" part of the "nuclear waste", they reacted with the 1% acid that was still in the solution.

    A pure chemical reaction.

    (Made complicated/ugly by the combustion products carrying away small amounts of nuclear waste, for sure.)

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.