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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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:13PM (#47094899)

    It is absolutely an agenda submission. It even looks to me like it's trying to be critical of the organic movement. I'll reserve my opinion of that kind of thing, but in this case, "organic" means what it actually means, not the hippie non-term it has become. I'd rather they say it was because they switched from clay-based to plant-based kitty litter. The risks of this should have been obvious to someone working with radioactive disposal.

  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:16PM (#47094929)

    clay is as "green" as it gets, pure natural inert material with practically infinite supply

  • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:21PM (#47094975) Homepage

    Jet fuel would be a hydrocarbon. Organic kitty litter would be essentially cellulose, a carbohydrate.

    Both are fuels, in that they will combust when heated, unlike clay.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:29PM (#47095049)

    It's worse than two kinds of concrete.

    It's like approving concrete originally, then switching to bamboo fiber mash. Yes, someone should have known better, as they're not even close to the same thing.

  • by Gareth Iwan Fairclough ( 2831535 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:35PM (#47095095)

    ...this is an example of quick recognition and response to a problem.

    um, no. How can you call it quick recognition when we're talking about cold-war era waste and products from decades ago and the only reason they realized something was wrong was because of an 'explosion'?

    It can be called "quick recognition" because it actually was "quick recognition" of a problem that simply didn't happened before the new litter was used.

  • by c0d3g33k ( 102699 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:44PM (#47095165)

    This is /., not your bank. There is no army of Chinese hackers anxiously waiting for your password so they can assume your identity and become internet superstars. You didn't re-use an important password for /. did you? Just check the IP address for plausibility and accept the expired cert.

    That's some astonishingly bad advice.

  • Well Duh! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lgftsa ( 617184 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:48PM (#47095195)

    Just because a material has a everyday name, it doesn't mean that the original specification didn't have a chemical/mechanical/biological/radiological/whatever reason for specifying it.

    If all the material property requirements were met with a commonly available product that didn't require an expensive supply chain, then that's great.


    I suspect that originally somewhere in the nuclear disposal system, a group identified the need, a solution was found and a materiel was specified. Along the line or through the years, the REASON for that specification was lost to the end of the purchasing chain and the poor sod who orders the stuff was given a directive to "buy sustainably" and substituted the new material without being aware of the original intent.

    That person probably wasn't even been aware of the use of the material - they may have though it was used in the kennels for the guard dogs. It's a nuclear material disposal site. Need to know is important. (1) The suppler wouldn't have known, either.

    There's lots of complaints of expensive procedures and materials(2), but this is a perfect example of the need for a formal supply chain system with provable provenance. You may BUY a commonly available kitty litter to fulfill the order, but what arrives in the sacks will have to match the specification sheet.

    1. Yes, this is irony. The accident may have been prevented if the purchasing officer knew what it was for. Then again, maybe not.

    2. Ferrous hammers are a bad idea around strong magnetic fields. If you're in a lab with a MRI or similar and lots of delicate equipment, a hammer to undo the dog on a vacuum chamber had better be a very special hammer. The kind that you can buy today for less than a hundred bucks, but in the 60's had to be engineered from scratch. Thank someone else's R&D for the fact you can buy a (nearly) chemically inert, non-ferrous, non-sparking hammer for a pittance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:52PM (#47095231)

    Not to mention, it wasn't the kitty litter that caused this.

    Newsflash: If you work with nuclear waste, don't go around changing the recipes without asking your boss!

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @05:53PM (#47095241)
    Why? If someone compromises my slashdot account, what can they do? Nothing. So there's no need to trust it at all. Sure, I use the same password on multiple sites, but I have levels of password, and the one they'd get if they compromised my slashdot account would only get them into forums. I don't care. So why should I use any security for an insecure site?
  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @06:40PM (#47095495)

    I'll only point out landfills are started by digging a hole and removing things like clay.

  • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @07:54PM (#47095825) Journal
    Really? I quote

    The Board identified the root cause to be a failure to fully understand, characterize, and control the radiological hazard among management at WIPP, the operating contractor, and the Carlsbad Field Office.

    Not sure why I was modded down for pointing out you were making an assumption without any data. Slashdots seems to be turning into a hangout for believers and ignorant retaliatory tribes.

    For you to be even technically correct, they would have had to identify what exactly was the problem, and as anybody who can navigate a website can see, they still aren't sure and they still do not know when their second report on the actual causes will be out.

    They did respond quickly though, so that's good.

  • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Monday May 26, 2014 @10:58PM (#47096741)
    I don't drive the content toward anything on this site. I do have my opinions, and I am very up front about them.

    Anything I 'discredit' is done without relation to the submitter, his credibility, or lack thereof. I speak to the content of the article and the subject matter. I did not dismiss anything in this article. In the past I have shown how some of the articles submitted by the same person are misleading or dead wrong and many points, and directly from sources that are not credible. This article isn't one of those, but it was one of many written on this event, but one of the few to repetitively use the term "dump".

    If you read the comments, these headlines breed confusion. Many people associate this type of waste with nuclear power fuel waste, and its a very different animal. Its a clarification that is perfectly reasonable for someone to make.

    So, be specific. What truth don't I like that I am discrediting? Or did you just throw out that accusation with nothing to back it up? I certainly backed up mine.
  • by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Tuesday May 27, 2014 @06:12AM (#47098019) Journal

    It is not an Ad Hominem falacy to point out that the person in question posts many negative nuclear related articles.

    From your own quote:

    "An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument."

    It would be ad-hom to say "ignore this because mdsolar has bad morals". It is not ad-hom to say "beware, mdsolar is obsessed with nuclear energy".

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter