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New theory: WIPP leak linked to glove in waste drum via The New Mexican

LOS ALAMOS — A glove used to process nuclear waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory and metallic residue from that process have grabbed the attention of investigators probing the cause of a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a lab official told lawmakers Wednesday.

A drum of waste that burst Feb. 14 at WIPP is suspected of releasing the radiation that shut down WIPP and halted shipments of waste from LANL — generated during decades of nuclear weapons development — to the underground storage site near Carlsbad. That container held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue, according to Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and earth sciences at LANL.

After the waste had been stored at LANL for nearly three decades, a chemical reaction ripped open a drum, releasing radiation at WIPP just weeks after the drum had been processed at LANL in mid-December. That trained investigators’ attention on what went wrong at the lab, Sauer said in remarks to the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee.

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More than 700 waste drums processed at LANL contain the organic kitty litter, Sauer said. They are stored at LANL, WIPP and the Waste Control Specialists site in Andrews, Texas, just across New Mexico’s border.

One other drum from the same waste stream as the one that burst is housed at LANL’s Area G storage site.

Sauer said the specific contents of the drum suspected of causing the leak are unique, particularly the metal-bearing glove that was left in the drum.

The incident at WIPP has spurred LANL to study its own protocols for waste management, Sauer said.

“Did our workers have adequate information to do the work that they needed to do?” she asked. “Did we look at all the nuances associated with the remediation of this waste so that we were sure that we were compliant?”

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