The search for an organic nuclear waste disposal method continues

Nuclear waste drums are exploding in New Mexico because somebody decided to switch Los Alamos’s brand of kitty litter:

In February, a 55-gallon drum of radioactive waste burst open inside America’s only nuclear dump, in New Mexico.

Now investigators believe the cause may have been a pet store purchase gone bad.

“It was the wrong kitty litter,” says James Conca, a geochemist in Richland, Wash., who has spent decades in the nuclear waste business.

Cat litter has been used for years to dispose of nuclear waste. Dump it into a drum of sludge and it will stabilize volatile radioactive chemicals. The litter prevents it from reacting with the environment.

And this is what contractors at were doing as they packed Cold War-era waste for shipment to the dump. But at some point, they decided to make a switch, from clay to organic.

“Now that might sound nice, you’re trying to be green and all that, but the organic kitty litters are organic,” says Conca. Organic litter is made of plant material, which is full of chemical compounds that can react with the nuclear waste.

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I can’t find my nuclear waste disposal materials at Whole Foods, I’m just not interested in disposing of my nuclear waste, sorry. Though I am starting to wonder what’s in cat urine.

Anyway, it turns out there are probably hundreds of drums of nuclear waste buried under New Mexico with the wrong kind of kitty litter, but don’t worry because those drums are enclosed in other, larger containers for safety. And those larger containers are totally safe; they’re the latest in organic containment, and instead of metal they’re made of a biodegradable plant-based polymer.* They’ll definitely hold up.

* As far as I know I just made that part up


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