Nuclear waste explosion site to reopen next year


The nation’s most expensive nuclear disaster, the result of storing radeicative debris from the Department of Energy’s national laboratories in organic cat litter, will be reopening, but only after taxpayers have shelled out a fortune to clean up the mess.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, was the site of an explosion on Valentin’s Day 2014 [previously].

The problem was traced to the packing material used to house the waste.

Traditionally, kitty litter was made from vemiculite, a stable, nonreactive mineral with a downside: It often contains asbestos, a potent carcinogen. Another mineral, bentonite, has also been used, a substance that’s also nonreactive. But a year before the explosion someone at the facility must’ve decided to go green and used organic kitty leader, made of plant waste materials and capable of, among other things, burning hen exposed to compounds in some radioactive aste.

In other words, mixing radioactive waste and organic cat litter was a recipe for disaster.

The cleanup has resulted in a large and growing burden on the taxpayers, as the Los Angeles Times reported in August:

The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion. The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned.

An Energy Department spokesperson declined to address the cost issue but acknowledged that the dump would either have to stay open longer or find a way to handle more waste each year to make up for the shutdown. She said the contract modification gave the government the option to cut short the agreement with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

It costs about $200 million a year to operate the dump, so keeping it open an additional seven years could cost $1.4 billion. A top scientific expert on the dump concurred with that assessment.

And now, as United Press International reports, the facility will soon be back in business, albeit on a limited scale:

A nuclear waste storage facility in New Mexico will resume some operations as early as next month — nearly three years after it closed following an accident that contaminated the facility with radiation, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Department of Energy said Friday the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeast New Mexico has been approved by regulators to resume at least some of its operations.

The plant was closed after a February 2014 incident in which a drum of nuclear waste ruptured, exposing part of the facility to toxic radiation.

“Safety has and will continue to be our number one priority,” Energy Department spokeswoman Bridget Bartol said.

Ah, nuclear, the gift that keeps on giving.

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