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New emails reveal concern over plutonium chain reaction in WIPP containers — “There shouldn’t be a ‘significant’ reaction… criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise” — “Significant amount of plutonium” — No mention of kitty litter

Published: May 29th, 2014 at 2:04 pm ET
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Albuquerque Journal News, May 29, 2014: WIPP probe: Emails raise new questions [...] internal Los Alamos National Laboratory emails showing Los Alamos approved products to be used in the drums that some experts say contain ingredients widely known to cause a heat reaction when combined with the drums’ other contents. The emails are not about the switch from inorganic to organic cat litter [...] The emails trace LANL’s approval of two products [...] to neutralize the pH balance of drum contents sent to WIPP. [...] despite product warnings clearly stating that the product is incompatible with metallic nitrates and “strong oxidizers,” such as nitrate salts, both of which are found in the LANL drums. Nitrates and organic matter are known to oxidize, a reaction that generates heat. [...] When Zeke Wilmot, [LANL contractor] EnergySolutions industrial hygienist, asked in an August 2013 email for approval to use the product, he notes that “criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise” and “it may be advisable to have LANL personnel weigh in on these issues as well.” [...] WIPP and LANL did not grant requests for interviews regarding the emails [...]

Email to LANL from Zeke Wilmot, EnergySolutions Industrial Hygienist (pdf): [...] we would like approval for use of liquid — acid and base neutralizers [...] I believe immediate solidification would resolve any criticality safety related concerns [...] As we have received a significant amount of Pu-cemented waste, I have looked into the reactivity issues potentially associated with incidental contact with plutonium. From the limited research I have done, elemental plutonium and plutonium hydride (hydride is not likely to be encountered) are water reactive, but there should not be a significant reaction if an aqueous fluid makes contact with plutonium dioxide. I expect most of the cemented Pu waste we’ve handled is the oxide. As the water reactivity of plutonium and criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise it may be advisable to have LANL personnel weigh in on these issues as well.

Cole Smith, chemist in NMED’s Hazardous Waste Bureau: “A bad combination [...] It wasn’t the most fantastic choice because nitrate salts in combination with organics is a bad mixture.”

William Quintana, head of New Mexico State University chemistry department: “That might be the problem right there [...] Nitrates are oxidizers. Every chemist knows that.”

See the emails leading to approval of the products here (pdf)

Published: May 29th, 2014 at 2:04 pm ET
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Email Article Email Article
161 comments

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