Kitty Litter Dirty Bomb: New Mexico Nuclear Disposal Plant Causes $500 Million of Damage By Using Wrong Kind Of Kitty Litter

220px-CatfillerRadioactive SymbolThere are so many surprising aspects to this story including the two salient points that we use kitty litter in nuclear plants and using the wrong kitty litter can cost you half a billion dollars. However, a recent report states that the mismanagement of the kitty litter issue at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico by its private operator, Los Alamos National Security LLC, led not only damage, but the injury of at least 20 workers — and the creation of a type of kitty litter dirty bomb. The concerns of an Al Kitta threat however may be premature. It turns out that you can avoid the risk by selecting clay-based kitty litter over wheat-based kitty litter.

A single damaged drum caused much of the damage and reached the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant where it cracked open.

The report by the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General portrays the plant as being run in a hasty and unprofessional manner to meet short deadlines for the disposal of material. The mismanagement however was only disclosed after a long and costly investigation by the Santa Fe Mexican. Once again, there is virtually no transparency on such issues by the government, which never informed the public of the scope of its mismanagement and blundering at a nuclear disposal site.

The report includes the finding that the resulting radiation leak not only sickened dozens but “may have led to an adverse chemical reaction within the drums resulting in serious safety implications.” This included the result that the mixing of the waste created a mixture akin to plastic explosives.

The mistaken use of the kitty litter was found to have been due to a typo in a policy manual. Previously, DOE rejected the kitty litter hypothesis the report indicates that it may in fact be the culprit. It may turn out that the problem was “organic kitty litter” — an indication that the organic movement could be an actual threat to national security? I knew that there was something suspicious about Whole Foods.

The contractor was allowed to stay in control of the plant and under federal contract. Simply four managers were replaced. It could take years to reopen the plant and will cost at least $500 million. The new manager, identified only as a Dr. Oppenheimerfuzzypants, has been brought into the plant supervise any operations.


18 thoughts on “Kitty Litter Dirty Bomb: New Mexico Nuclear Disposal Plant Causes $500 Million of Damage By Using Wrong Kind Of Kitty Litter”

  1. You never know when you’ll find a tiny kitten, shivering in the rain, soaked to the bone, and your good heart cannot ignore this baby that can’t help itself. The only solution is to take the poor little thing home. In the morning, as you prepare to take the kitten to a shelter, you find your dog curled up around the kitten keeping it warm. This has happened. It could happen to you. I’ll keep my fingers crosed.

    1. Sandi – we are down to just one dog now. This is no longer a problem. This particular dog thinks cats are food.

  2. There is actually a video on how to teach your cat to use the toilet. I saw cats do it. And if you’ve ever had a cat, teaching anything is almost impossible, with the possible exception of moving their food.

    1. sandi – when my wife and I were first together, in the interests of the relationship I agreed to a cat. I did not like the cat. However, the cat liked me, regardless of how much I ignored it.

  3. I am incredulous that, according to this story, there is only one Mexican in Santa Fe, and he or she is wealthy at that! (The newspaper is actually the Santa Fe NEW Mexican.).

    1. Timothy Roberts – having been to Santa Fe I can tell you there are a lot of New Mexicans there. 😉

  4. It’s worth noting that:

    Los Alamos National Security, LLC is a private limited liability company formed by the University of California, Bechtel, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services, and URS Energy and Construction. Wikipedia

    So it’s government contracting another government and private entities to oversee government sites. The big problem here, as in DC, is that as soon as a government technical person becomes experienced and proficient, they have ever incentive to switch sides to the contractor where they can be paid twice as much. Add to that the naturally occurring close relationships that form between government and contractors that work side by side and you’re left with little ability or incentive to perform much oversight on the large contracts. Even if you hired a new contractor, the workers are going to stay the same for the most part.

  5. BFM:

    You are right that the biggest problem is the human suffering this has caused. They were probably given iodine right away, and their thyroid checked. They should be monitored for cancers, which often take years to develop.

  6. Kitty Litter is like duct tape. It has all sorts of indications, including getting you out of a snowy ditch.

    This exposes:
    1) Problems with our procurement system and contracts. There is no accountability.
    2) Lack of training in a nuclear facility boggles the mind. Of COURSE it needs to be clay rather than wheat. The whole point is that they need basically inert fine dirt.
    3) Lack of transparency. Nothing brings about change and accountability like the disinfecting light of transparency to the public.

    I have to admit, though, that when I first started reading this, it brought to mind when I was a recent graduate. I and some friends drove a physicist grad to Los Alamos. We seriously considered tee-peeing the plutonium plant, but thought maybe, perhaps, the armed guards might not see the humor, and decided against it. The world just didn’t understand nerd humor before The Big Bang Theory.

  7. “The report includes the finding that the resulting radiation leak not only sickened dozens but “may have led to an adverse chemical reaction within the drums resulting in serious safety implications.”

    This article seems to emphasize cost and incompetence.

    But release of enough radioactive material to sicken dozens ought to be major news. We can only guess that those exposed now are burdened with higher probability of cancer and possibly birth defects for any additional children.

  8. “… to meet short deadlines for the disposal of material.” Indeed, less money to do the same job or even at times more work. This is what we get when we have Congresspersons touting reduced federal spending and their answer is to cut everyone 10%. This is nonsense. Some agencies should be cut 100%, some agencies get an increase of 30%. An across the board cut is a sure fire way to destroy everything. Which is exactly what we seem to be doing. Check out the status of our once great National Weather Service…

  9. When it comes down to it, it is money not spent for due diligence. Private operators are no more or less effective or ineffective than government operators. The more rigorous the safety system the less chance of accidents. Statistics prove this. In the US there are 100 nuclear power facilities which have had 56 major accidents and over 150 incidents in their history. This can be see to be a combination of cutting corners to cut costs layered on human failure.

    In France there are 60 reactors which have had only 12 accidents. France gets most of its electricity from nuclear power and the system is centralized and strictly overseen by government departments. Most of the rail system is run on electricity. The success speaks for itself and the failure above and beyond basic human failure can be attributed to private enterprise penchants for reducing costs to raise profits.

    Given that France has a population a fifth as large as the US there may be other factors to add. Sometimes the government does it better than the private sector. The private sector on its own with little to no oversight by the government is a recipe for disaster. The system in France is an example of the success of Government and Private Enterprise working together. We should be learning from those other than ourselves.

    Look at Germany’s economic success through their ‘holy trinity’ of government, labor, and corporate. Their manufacturing sector is miles ahead of any other country including the US.

  10. This comes from only only owning dogs, but I thought there was only one type type of kitty litter. Atomic science is not what it used to be.

  11. Cats are terrible typists. They make lots of typos. Worse than a room full of monkeys with typewriters. But they must have many rooms full of cat typists, and perhaps hundreds of cats doing other duties, doing their duties. (Why else would they need barrels and barrels of kitty litter at a nuclear plant?)

  12. Dafuq did I just read? I had to go to The Onion first to make sure you weren’t skimming off one of those gems. Turns out that this actually happened…

    Organic, huh? LOL!

  13. Typos can kill!! They keep tight reins on Los Alamos employees. I have a former FBI friend in Santa Fe. who did background checks on employees. A DUI will trigger a background check.

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