(Pictured: The ruptured container that remains at the WIPP site.)
The Department of Energy thinks it now knows what caused the radiation leak earlier this year at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. According to the Albuquerque Journal:
The Department of Energy has added a new focus to its investigation into the source of a radiation leak at a nuclear waste repository: six drums with highly acidic contents.
That’s according to the New Mexico Environment Department, which has been receiving frequent updates on scientists’ testing of the hot chemical reaction that could have occurred inside at least one drum at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, cracking the lid and releasing radiation into the environment.
The six drums now in the spotlight could contain parts of an evaporator used at Los Alamos National Laboratory that may have rendered the drum contents highly acidic. In packing drums, generator sites typically work to neutralize acids or bases before sending the waste to WIPP.
In addition, the six drums also contain an organic cat litter that may have served as the “fuel” for a hot reaction but not the spark, according to Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn, who testified Tuesday before the state Legislature’s radioactive and hazardous waste committee.
Here’s the bad news for Texas: Five of the six suspect containers are now being stored at the Waste Control Specialists’ Andrews County dump site:
One of the six drums – the one with the cracked lid – is at WIPP, according to the NMED. The Environment Department late Tuesday said DOE has confirmed that the remaining five are being held at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas.
Waste Control Specialists has buried the LANL waste containers to keep them temperature-stable, Winchester said. Before it was discovered that the problem drum at WIPP came from LANL, Waste Control Specialists had agreed to temporarily store LANL waste while WIPP remains closed.