A radioactive kitty litter 'bomb' | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

A radioactive kitty litter 'bomb'

A typo and a bag of organic kitty litter may end up costing United States taxpayers more than $2 billion in nuclear waste cleanup, according to a new report by Ralph Vartabedian at the Los Angeles Times.

Back in February 2014, a drum of nuclear waste burst open inside the cavernous Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), which is drilled out of a salt deposit nearly half a mile below the deserts of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The US Department of Energy (DOE), which funds the company that runs the nuclear waste dump, quickly suspended operations and launched an investigation to figure out the cause.

drum 68660 wipp doe labeled Drum 68660, which burst in WIPP nuclear waste dump. DOE/WIPP

In their 277-page report, investigators determined the blast vaporized nearly 7.5 lbs of the material inside a single barrel, labeled "Drum 68660." That material included some radioactive isotopes of americium, plutonium, and uranium — byproducts of Cold War-era nuclear weapons production.

Although no one was inside WIPP when the drum burst, the facility's air ventilation system spread some of the gases outside, exposing 21 workers to low doses of radiation.

Investigators also discovered the trigger of the "thermal runaway event," also known as an "explosion": a dangerous combination of nitric acid and salts, triethanolamine, and "sWheat Scoop" organic kitty litter. (The DOE mentions the brand almost 400 times in its report.)

The cleanup itself will cost hundreds of millions, but that's not where the mishap's ledger ends.
A radioactive kitty litter 'bomb'