Radiation Leak Blamed on 'Kitty Litter'

'It was a dumb idea,' scientist says

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted May 14, 2014 9:18 AM CDT

(Newser) – A scientist who used to work at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, thinks he knows what caused the mysterious radiation leak that has shuttered the plant: kitty litter. Authorities revealed Monday that the evidence indicated that nuclear waste barrels had melted thanks to a chemical reaction between the waste and another substance. That other substance was kitty litter, which is used to absorb liquid in the drums, Jim Conca, who worked at the plant from 2000 to 2010, tells the Carlsbad Current-Argus.

The problem, Conca says, is that the facility switched from non-organic litter to organic litter. "I'm just dying to know why this happened and who approved it, because it was a dumb idea," he says. "You just can't make a change to the procedure without reviewing it." A New Mexico official confirms that the Energy Department is discussing the litter theory, among other possibilities. The February 14 leak exposed 21 workers to radiation. Last month, an Energy Department report ruled that it was preventable, attributing it to "poor management, ineffective maintenance, and a lack of proper training and oversight," according to NPR.

Waste stacks sit in a storage room with broken magnesium oxide bags and heat damage, at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, NM, May 10, 2014.   (AP Photo/Waste Isolation Pilot Plant)
This May 10, 2014 photo from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant shows evidence of a heat-producing event, seen from the black marks on the sides of a standard waste box, at the WIPP site in Carlsbad, NM.   (AP Photo/Waste Isolation Pilot Plant)
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