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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161 comments

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161 comments to 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

  • Sickputer

    Headline: LOS ALAMOS APPROVED NUCLEAR-WASTE PACKING MIX, DESPITE RISKS

    "Los Alamos National Laboratory approved a caustic mixture to pack nuclear-waste drums now in danger of bursting, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

    Laboratory personnel last year granted a contractor's requests to begin packing the barrels with two substances widely understood to produce thermal reactions when combined with nitrate salts in the waste, according to Los Alamos e-mails made available by New Mexico environment officials. The organic materials were in addition to a cat-litter absorbent previously linked to a container breakage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, the Journal reported on Thursday."

    ""It doesn't really matter who is to blame," New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn added. "They all work for [the Energy Department]."

    Jim Conca, a former Los Alamos staffer, said questions on the proposed packaging "went up the chain to the wrong person," the Santa Fe New Mexican reported."

    http://www.nextgov.com/defense/2014/05/los-alamos-approved-nuclear-waste-packing-mix-despite-risks/85519/?oref=ng-dropdown

    SP: So who was that wrong person Jimmy? I think the finger can be pointed at more than just one poor little scapegoat.

  • Sickputer

    New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn seems to be willing to protect the citizens of New Mexico.

    The world wonders (in Texas) where is the Texas response to the timebomb barrels in Andrews County?

    Answer…Asleep at the wheel.

    TCEQ http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/about/ is the watchdog for Texans, but they seem to protect business rather than the environment. As we know, three members of the commission resigned in disgust at the decision to license the nuclear dump in Andrews County.

    News and Comments page for TCEQ:

    http://www.tllrwdcc.org/rules/

    On that page WCS is quite adept at making their own requests of the TCEQ:

    WCS Rule Review Informal Comments:

    http://www.tllrwdcc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/WCS-Rule-Review-Informal-Comments.pdf

    Pertinent sections:

    "We replaced criteria (1) with a modified version of criteria… as the total volume and curies are more important than the characteristics of the waste. We removed criteria (4) as authorization from TCEQ to dispose of the proposed waste is not required other than under these rules. Given the operational history to date, this criteria is providing a burden to TCEQ, but no benefit to the Compact Commission or operator."

    SP: Excuse me? "the total volume and curies are more important than the characteristics of the waste." I call this an insult to science and citizens.

    http://www.tllrwdcc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/WCS-Rule-Review-Informal-Comments.pdf

  • dharmasyd dharmasyd

    "..Nitrates are oxidizers. Every chemist knows that.”
    But I'm not a chemist; I'm a nuclear physicist. Don't blame me.

  • jec jec

    DOE report says it will take a YEAR to close off the panel areas..and that Panel 6 has 2 rooms with the same issues as Panel 7 rooms. Wonderful, just wonderful –(sarcasm).
    http://www.neimagazine.com/news/newswipp-begins-filter-change-out-process-as-it-lays-out-short-term-plans-4282738

    Why dont we hear news about WIPP? Instead we see EPA and Obama making shortsided pronouncements on air pollution for coal. WHAT ABOUT RADIATION POLLUTION FROM NUCLEAR ACCIDENTS???? That is certainly worse…

    • We Not They Finally

      Yeah, and there is a big push now to "educate" the public about global warming. I'd like to globally-warm their lying tongues but good. They will push the global warming rhetoric until finally it will come down to deformed babies. THAT caused by global warming too? What do you think?

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