CARLSBAD, N.M. – A mysterious radiation release that has indefinitely shuttered the federal government’s only permanent nuclear waste dump may have been caused by a change in the type of kitty litter that is mixed with the toxic waste.
That’s one of the theories that officials are exploring as they investigate the February 14 leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in southeastern New Mexico that contaminated 21 workers with low levels of radiation, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported Tuesday.
Jim Conca, a scientist who worked at the facility from 2000 to 2010, told the newspaper he believes a change from non-organic to organic litter caused a chemical reaction inside a waste drum, releasing the radioactive isotopes.
New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn confirmed to the paper on Monday that he has heard Department of Energy officials discuss the possibility that kitty litter may have been to blame for the radiation leak. Flynn said it is one of many theories and nothing is certain at this time.
The dump 26 miles east of Carlsbad cannot take in liquid waste, so kitty litter is used to absorb any liquid before drums of waste are sealed and shipped to the facility, Conca said. The dump is the federal government’s only permanent repository for waste from decades of building nuclear bombs from Los Alamos National Laboratories and other federal facilities.