Waste makes haste: How a campaign to speed up nuclear waste shipments shut down the WIPP long-term repository

By Vincent Ialenti, June 28, 2018

What happened, in the years leading up to Valentine’s Day 2014, that made a canister of nuclear waste burst open and spew out fire underground at a US facility for the long-term disposal of radioactive military waste? According to one widely publicized scenario, a simple run-of-the-mill typo led to organic kitty litter mistakenly being used to soak up liquid in the drum instead of another kind of absorbent material. This ultimately led to a chemical chain reaction that made heat and pressure build up in the drum, causing it to erupt. But was that “simple” clerical error symptomatic of a much deeper, system-wide problem – involving a US Energy Department plan to rush the pace of nuclear waste disposal? What were the political, social, and financial elements involved in making Los Alamos’ waste drum #68,660 erupt that February night? What can be done to prevent similar accidents – which can have price tags of hundreds of millions of dollars or more – from happening again in the future? A cultural anthropologist spent 10 weeks onsite after the event, logging 43 interviews and trying to answer these questions. Here is what he found.

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Dr. T. Douglas Reill
Dr. T. Douglas Reill

The article “Waste makes haste, How a campaign to speed up nuclear waste shipments shut down the WIPP long-term repository,” by Vincent Ialenti, shows an incredible amount of research and effort. It describes in detail the common public view of the events of Valentine’s Day 2014 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in a salt dome near Carlsbad, New Mexico. I wish to describe a very different view that I and many Los Alamos National Laboratory workers and retirees, like myself, share regarding the event. Basically I believe the very small radiation release in Panel-7 was a minor event… Read more »

Jimmy Neutron
Jimmy Neutron

“…Valentine’s Day 2014, that made a canister of nuclear waste burst open and spew out fire ..”
No it did NOT “spew out fire”.

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