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USA taxpayers up for #billions for WIPP nuclear waste cleanup?

A typo and a bag of kitty litter might cost US taxpayers billions in nuclear waste cleanup, Business Insider, DAVE MOSHER AUG 27, 2016, A typo and a bag of organic kitty litter may end up costing United States taxpayers more than $2 billion in nuclear waste cleanup, according to a new report by Ralph Vartabedian at the Los Angeles Times.

waste drum burst WIPP

Back in February 2014, a drum of nuclear waste burst open inside the cavernous Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), Waste Isolation Pilot Plant WIPPwhich is drilled out of a salt deposit nearly half a mile below the deserts of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The US Department of Energy (DOE), which funds the company that runs the nuclear waste dump, quickly suspended operations and launched an investigation to figure out the cause.

In their 277-page report, investigators determined the blast vaporized nearly 7.5 lbs of the material inside a single barrel, labelled “Drum 68660.” That material included some radioactive isotopes of americium, plutonium, and uranium — byproducts of Cold War-era nuclear weapons production.

Although no one was inside WIPP when the drum burst, the facility’s air ventilation system spread some of the gases outside, exposing 21 workers to low doses of radiation.

Investigators also discovered the trigger of the “thermal runaway event,” also known as an “explosion”: a dangerous combination of nitric acid and salts, triethanolamine, and“sWheat Scoop” organic kitty litter. (The DOE mentions the brand almost 400 times in its report.)

The cleanup itself will cost hundreds of millions, but that’s not where the mishap’s ledger ends.

The “organic” part of the kitty litter in question is crucial.

That’s because wheat, which makes up the pee-absorbing bulk of organic kitty litter, contains plant cellulose that can burn. Standard kitty litter, meanwhile, is inorganic, since it’s primarily made of clay.

So when drum-packing workers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) followed instructions to add an organic variety to soak up radioactive fluids, they were unknowingly packing up what Sarah Zhang at Gizmodo called “the ingredients of a bomb.”………

Whatever the case, WIPP isn’t entombing any nuclear waste while cleanup work continues — which means the US government’s grand scheme to seal it all up has a major wrench in its gears.

The Times reports the facility may need 7 years of additional operation to handle the backup of waste. At $200 million per year, according to the Times’ analysis, that could add up to $1.4 billion in extra costs triggered by the mishap……

In the meantime, the DOE might also have to pay temporary storage and inspection costs for all of the waste that WIPP can’t entomb until the cleanup work is finished. The DOE couldn’t confirm or deny this, nor the cost.

“The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is critical to the Department of Energy’s mission to cleanup nuclear waste generated by atomic energy activities,” a DOE spokesperson told Business Insider in an email. “WIPP is the nation’s only repository for the disposal of nuclear waste known as transuranic (TRU) waste. The Department is committed to the recovery, and resumption of TRU disposal operations at WIPP when it is safe to do so.”…..http://www.businessinsider.com.au/kitty-litter-nuclear-waste-accident-2016-8?r=US&IR=T

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August 27, 2016 - Posted by | USA, wastes

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