americium, AREVA, Babcock & Wilcox, Bechtel, magnesium oxide, New Mexico, nuclear waste, nuclear waste accident, nuclear waste dump, nuclear waste facility, nuclear waste storage, plutonium, URS, USA, WIPP
On their May 15, 2014 entry into the WIPP facility the WIPP recovery team took the following picture, which shows what everyone figured all along: “Evidence of Damaged Drum” and of a “Heat-Producing Event“.
May 15, 2014, US gov image cropped by us
This disaster was brought to you by URS with Babcock & Wilcox, who are present at both the WIPP dump and at Los Alamos, from whence the waste is believed to have come. At WIPP a major subcontractor is French gov owned AREVA. U. Cal and Bechtel are also at Los Alamos. But, URS and Babcock & Wilcox are at both.
In a public hearing, it was announced that nitrate could possibly have contributed to the explosion – presumably Plutonium nitrate or Americium nitrate. These are more water soluble, and hence are more mobile in the environment, and migrate more quickly out of the lungs and into the body, than do Plutonium Oxide and Americium Oxide. However, the contents of the containers are still unknown:
“May 19, 2014
Labs investigate drum content
Last week a photograph showed a waste container with a cracked lid and heat damage, providing further evidence of a significant heat event in WIPP’s Room 7 of Panel 7. The investigation into the exact cause of the release is ongoing.” Read the rest here: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/recovery.html
Apparently the initial claim was that the above ground radiation was only radon, sucked from underground during the truck fire. However, Americium and Plutonium were reported above ground, as might be expected from an accident in a facility whose original purpose was to store Americium, Plutonium and other Transuranic radionuclides. They state that “Slight amounts of americium and plutonium were briefly detected at four sampling locations.” http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/sampling_results.html
The Plutonium and Americium are High LET energy Alpha emitters, dangerous upon inhalation, ingestion or absorption, and they indeed escaped the WIPP facility. They have half lives in the body of decades, and so pretty much stay in the body for life. Now that everyone sees the image, they understand why they escaped. This room is open and supervised. What happens in the the closed, unsupervised ones? Can’t be good!
One of the first anomalies, seen on April 30 and reported on May 1 was that the magnesium oxide bags were torn and they aren’t supposed to be: “Video and photographs taken during yesterday’s entry confirmed that several magnesium oxide bags in Room 7 of Panel 7 were damaged. Each magnesium oxide bag weighs between 3,000-4,200 pounds. They are placed on top of waste containers during disposal operations to prevent the radioactive material from releasing into the environment over a 10,000-year period, ensuring long-term safety of the repository. The cause of the damage to the bags is still unknown. Eyewitness accounts from employees and video documentation from Wednesday’s entry also confirmed there are no issues with the roof or walls in the disposal room.” http://www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/WIPP%20Update%205_01_14.pdf
WIPP opened in 1999. That is 15 years and not 10,000 years!
Looking at the pictures below, the question which springs forth is how and when the bags were opened? As some appear neatly torn or cut, the question then would seem to be who tore them open and when? How did the magnesium oxide end up on top of the barrels in neat pyramids? Notice that in most of the pictures there is smoke throughout the magnesium oxide.
All of this appears to indicate that it was used to put out oozing and smoldering of some containers. Obviously the top picture did more than smolder. In one picture there seems to be some new magnesium oxide, which was added on top of blackened magnesium oxide, suggesting that some was put to extinguish the smoldering and then more was added. Our guess is that someone – and we will never know who because of the multiplicity of contractors, sent or left people down there to deal with the problem. There is a good chance that the person did not know the risks. Given that this is New Mexico, where Mexicans have lived much longer than the state belonged to the USA, it would be exceedingly easy to sneak illegal, undocumented workers, from Central America or Mexico into the dump to deal with this mess, without anyone noticing. If they got sick, or even died, no one will know, and the subcontractor can simply throw them back across the border to Mexico. If they get sick in the future – and they probably will – there will be no record and then the nuclear industry can say that it is “safe” and that no one got sick or died! One can hope that they sent a properly attired knowledgable person down there to deal with it, but it seems we would have heard that by now. One can only hope that they gave whoever it was respirators and protective clothing.
All images and more available here: http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/photo_video.html
This is the non-zoomed original picture:
“May 15, Panel 7, Room 7
Evidence of Damaged Drum in Panel 7, Room 7”
Going back to May 10, 2014, they started from the front, where things were still intact and worked their way backwards. The bags are supposed to be sealed and lay across the top of the waste:
“ The waste face (front of the waste stacks) from Panel 7, Room 7 is neatly stacked with Magnesium Oxide (MgO) bags on top.”
Note that all of these are their words, bags torn and then “melted material” on sides of drums – the black drippy stuff that looks like tar:
“MgO piles on top of waste drums. Melted material can been seen on the sides of the drums.
The two items below help to explain the hypothesis that a new type of kitty litter, which was put in as an absorbent, could have caused a problem. The new might be inadequately absorbent (or somehow reactive). The second item explains the purpose of the magnesium oxide bags, which were supposed to be laying on top of the waste, presumably pending closure, and collapse of mine (actually planned).
“Waste that is to be disposed of at WIPP must meet certain “waste acceptance criteria”. It accepts transuranic waste generated from DOE activities. The waste must have radioactivity exceeding 100 nCi per gram from TRUs that produce alpha radiation with a half life greater than 20 years. This criterion includes plutonium, uranium, americium,and neptunium among others. Mixed waste contains both radioactive and hazardous constituents, and WIPP first received mixed waste on September 9, 2000. Mixed waste is joint-regulated by the EPA and the New Mexico Environment Department. The containers may also contain a limited amount of liquids. The energy released from radioactive materials will dissociate water into hydrogen and oxygen (radiolysis). This could then create a potentially explosive environment inside the container. The containers must be vented, as well, to prevent this from happening.” (Emphasis added). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_Isolation_Pilot_Plant.
“Hydration of Magnesium Oxide in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant“, 2002 MRS Fall Meeting, Anna C. Snidera1 et. a1., Carlsbad Programs Group, Sandia National Laboratories, Carlsbad, NM 88220, U.S.A.
Magnesium oxide (MgO) is the only engineered barrier being emplaced in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a U.S. Department of Energy repository for transuranic waste. MgO will lower dissolved concentrations of actinides by consuming CO2 from possible microbial activity, by buffering the pH between 8.5 and 9.5, and by reducing the amount of free water in the repository. This paper discusses results from experiments measuring the hydration of MgO. Results suggest that periclase (MgO) hydrates rapidly to brucite (Mg(OH)2) in de-ionized water and 4 M NaCl solution at 90°C; the hydration rate decreases as temperature decreases. In ERDA-6, a NaCl-rich WIPP brine, MgO hydrates directly to brucite; in GWB, a high-Mg brine, periclase hydrates to magnesium chloride hydroxide hydrate(s) until the dissolved Mg2+ concentration decreases, and brucite becomes the stable phase. Under humid conditions MgO fully hydrates at higher humidities(> 50%). All data are consistent with diffusion-limited hydration reactions“. (Emphasis addded) http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8073990
Sellafield, you may recall, recently kept workers home because of radiation, only to later claim that it was natural radon. WIPP has multiple governmental and private players responsible: US DOE, US EPA, New Mexico Environment Dept, as well as the multiple private contractors and subcontractors. There is also local media, and one newspaper reporter appears rather feisty in the public meetings, as do some citizens. It would appear that the more players involved the harder it would be to cover things up – if they did there would be something besides the radiation leak – a communications leak. URS and Babcock & Wilcox are the lead contractors with Areva as major subcontractor. URS and Areva are also present at Sellafield. But, there would be multiple layers and types of subcontractors.