Raise your hand if you knew that nuclear waste was packed with kitty litter? And that an accident of nuclear proportions could be the result of mixing clumping, granular material that cats defecate in with toxic waste. Nuclear scientists evidently never saw this one coming, and now the cat is out of the bag – you can’t mix organic kitty litter with a barrel of nuclear slop.
Writes NPR News: “A yearlong investigation by government scientists has concluded that a major accident at a nuclear waste dump was caused by the wrong brand of cat litter. The U.S. Department of Energy has released a 277-page report into an explosion that occurred on Feb. 14, 2014, at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. According to a summary of the report, the incident occurred when a single drum of nuclear waste burst open.”
The report, complete with complex colored graphs and photos of the microscopy study of particles, concluded that when workers switched from the typical clay, inorganic kitty litter to an organic brand – “absorbent Swheat Scoop® kitty litter,” – using a ratio of 3:1 parts litter to waste, barrel number 68660 from their underground repository burst open like a can of green beans with botulism, “resulting in the release of radioactive material into the environment and contaminating 21 people with low level radioactivity.”
We’re all for saving the environment, but when drums that are filled to the brim with toxic, radioactive uranium, plutonium and americium are buried deep without our earth, is the inorganic kitty litter stuffer really the chief concern?
The accident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant occurred in February 2014. The total damage and cleanup cost has topped $240 million. Fortunately, the nearly two dozen workers exposed to contaminates are not thought to be suffering any long-term health effects.
Forbes explains the science behind the toxic mixture: “Traditional cat litter is made from various inorganic geologic silicate minerals like diatomaceous earth, zeolites or bentonites, materials that are excellent in absorbing and stabilizing chemical species like nitrates, ammonia, and urea. This is the very reason we use minerals for cat litter. Unfortunately, someone working with this waste, before it was to be shipped to WIPP, used a new ‘green’ cat litter, made with materials like wheat or corn. These organic litters do not have the silicate properties needed to chemically stabilize nitrate the correct way.”
So there you have it. Kitty litter the chief contributor to a multimillion dollar nuclear accident.