Officials at WIPP have released photos and some details about the new findings in the waste site. They have visually identified one barrel that caused damage in room 7. A black 50 gallon barrel appeared to have burst along the lid seam. The barrel did have a bag of magnesium oxide (MGO) on top of it. The bag itself was burned away. Scorch marks can be seen on nearby surfaces in a gap between pallets along with evidence of other melted plastics. DOE has confirmed the barrel with damage is from Los Alamos.
The event in the room included melting multiple MGO bags in the central part of the room, indicating some sort of more widespread event. There are a number of visually similar drums adjacent to the one with visible damage. DOE has not said if these other barrels include the same mix of materials or if they are suspect to also be leaking or could have an event like the found barrel at some point.
At previous town hall meetings DOE has said the barrels they suspect came from Los Alamos and contained nitrate salts. Officials also admitted that they were packed with a kitty litter type substance. Upon further questioning DOE admitted the previously used material for packing this kind of material was vermiculite. They would not disclose what the “organic” replacement now being used was but did seem to indicate that there had been a switch from using vermiculite to another substance for packages containing the nitrate salts in question.
The suspect barrel is about center of the current pallets of stored materials. DOE has not been forthcoming with details about radiation levels within the room. The MGO bags present an inhalation hazard to workers but since workers may need to wear respirators and gear due to the radiation levels that may be a moot point. The piles of loose MGO will at least cause a complication as they attempt to examine and possibly handle the material loaded into the room. If the remaining similar barrels in room 7 are also capable of having events like the found barrel it would add another level of complication for possibly handling those barrels to do something to contain them or remove the hazard.
The lack of disclosure has caused widespread anger from the public. Many questions have been asked of DOE to just go unanswered. Critical information needed for the public to analyze DOE’s statements is frequently not shared. Even the state of New Mexico has been expressing frustration with the way DOE has been handling the problem. The state has issued an administrative order demanding DOE disclose some information and provide required monitoring that stopped after the incidents.
Overhead view of the grouping of barrels in question. Broken open barrel can be seen on the left with a slight yellowing along the edge. Scorch marks can be seen on the box in the top of the photo along with burned away plastic sheet. Damaged barrel with split open lid can be seen on the left. The burned away plastic sheet below can be seen clearly here. Burned remnants of the MGO bag can be seen along the edge of the barrel.
Another overhead view of the melted MGO bags that show the event was fairly widespread in the room.
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