Los Alamos has narrowed down what they think is the risk scenario that lead to the barrel explosion at WIPP. A combination of the waste being handled, the absorbent used and a lead glove may have created the conditions that caused the barrel incident.
The representative from Los Alamos explained the reaction they are considering as this:
“We also see that there are other reactions that could have taken place on a smaller scale,” Wallace said. “For example, nitric acid interacts and reacts with lead at a much lower temperature. So there’s a series of these reactions that could have taken place that all together could have heated this drum up to the point where you would begin to have a reaction with the organic absorbent.”
The waste stream in question is liquid waste from Rocky Flats plutonium plant in Colorado. Of that waste, those that were absorbed with the organic kitty litter and had a low PH were the most suspect. Two barrels are known to have had lead gloves dumped into the barrels along with the liquid waste. One is the barrel from Panel 7 Room 7 that exploded. The other one is in Panel 6. The manner these two barrels were packed under did violate rules that govern the waste packing process.
All of the remaining drums are at WIPP or the Texas waste dump. Los Alamos considers them in need or remediation if they were to be returned for proper processing. The barrel in panel 6 is of the most concern as it could have an event similar to the one in Room 7. Panel 6 is currently closed off with chain link fence. DOE did not indicate where in panel 6 the suspect barrel is located or if the room it is in has a proper seal to prevent another release currently. DOE did cite at a WIPP town hall meeting that there wasn’t a current air flow being run through panel 6 but did not clarify how a potential release there could be properly isolated.
This information was presented at a state legislature meeting. It appears that state officials are beginning to lose patience with DOE.
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