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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.
May 20, 2014
WIPP continues investigation of disrupted waste disposal room
WIPP re-entry teams are using different techniques to examine conditions in Panel 7, Room 7, where disruptions to magnesium oxide bags and waste containers damaged by a yet unknown event have previously been identified. Their goal is to obtain the best information, while protecting worker safety and minimizing disruption to the affected area.
On Monday, a rope camera, which is typically used inside pipes to see small limited areas, was delivered to the area through a titanium tube. The technique allowed operators to lower the camera between the stacks and rotate, as needed, but its low resolution means the images are not as clear as previous ones taken. At right, a slip sheet damaged by heat is shown on top of a 55-gallon drum.
An entry planned for later this week may also collect samples from the area for laboratory analysis.
Work on ventilation system progressing
Construction of containment tents is ongoing, as WIPP prepares to replace several filters in the underground ventilation system. HEPA, or high efficiency particulate air, filters continue to function well and will remain in place for now. The filters to be changed are those that remove the larger particles and, in addition to having contamination, are believed to be affected by soot and smoke from the February 5 underground vehicle fire.” http://www.wipp.energy.gov/wipprecovery/recovery.html
Below are excerpts from a 2011 US DOE document discussing the Kitty Litter issue. (After it we have a postscript about how WIPP is designed to fail). Although this is about Hanford radioactive sludge, and it is believed that the “problem” nuclear waste is from Los Alamos, the witches brew which had a “heat event” may well be similar. As far as their finding plutonium and americium outside of the WIPP facility, it may be worth noting that plutonium and americium both have lower melting and boiling points than uranium and hence would vaporize at lower temperatures than uranium.
“Mitigation of Hydrogen Gas Generation from the Reaction of Uranium Metal with Water in K Basin Sludge and Sludge Waste Forms“, by SI Sinkov CH Delegard AJ Schmidt, June 2011, Prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract DE-AC05-76RL01830, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Richland, Washington http://www.pnl.gov/main/publications/external/technical_reports/PNNL-20455.pdf
For melting points and boiling points of uranium, americium and plutonium: BP Pu is 3,228C; MP is 639.4 C http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium BP U is 4,131 C; MP is 1,132.2 C http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium BP Am is 2,607 C; MP Am is 1,176 C http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americium
“With regard to the nature of the explosion I make the following suggestion: the melting points and boiling points of plutonium and uranium oxides are not the same. The MP of plutonium oxide in MOX is 2701 degrees C but that of the Uranium oxide is 3120 degrees C (Popov et al 2000). Therefore when a mixture of these boils, there will be fractional distillation of the plutonium oxide, separation of the mixture, just as happens with alcohol distillation from alcohol water mixtures or the fractional distillation of crude oil. Thus plutonium will become concentrated in the vapour and in the nearest cooler areas were the vapour condenses. This would inevitably lead to a nuclear explosion when the concentration of plutonium exceeded the critical level for chain reaction. It is not only in MOX fuel that plutonium exists in nuclear reactors. It is produced as a result of the neutron irradiation of uranium fuel“. Excerpted from, Busby, Chris, 23 April 2011, “Nuclear criticality explosions in Fukushima due to plutonium fractionation and the consequences for health; some questions from a physical chemist” http://www.llrc.org/fukushima/subtopic/fukushimacriticality.pdf
Postscript: If this event has really occurred in the open, operating parts of the mine, as alleged, then it indicates really basic problems with the management of radioactive waste. Nonetheless, the WIPP facility is designed to have problems. It is designed to fail. As each panel is closed, it is removed from the ventilation system, backfilled and abandoned. It is made of SALT. It is intended that the rooms close upon the waste, hence increasing pressure, on what will be unventilated and ultimately crushed waste. Proximity of injection wells risks bringing water horizontally across the salt bed, into WIPP, which would cause corrosion, gas formation, and eventually implosion-sinkhole. The radioactive waste will all eventually have to be dug out and restored in a solid hard rock, non-collapsing facility, as proposed at Yucca Mountain. However, the waste facility MUST be left open and ventilated even at Yucca Mountain or there will be issues of humidity and corrosion, despite the arid climate. This is but the beginning of WIPP’s problems. WIPP is a major hazard waiting to happen. Its design and location in salt is the apex of idiocy and lunacy. Any child with common sense would know better. Those lacking common sense had as an example two German salt-based radioactive storage facilities which had problems within 20 years or less (the easy to remember Asse II along with Morsleben. A third, Gorleben salt dome, is also believed problematic.). To be fair, without nearby injection wells, WIPP could make an adequate facility if kept open, dry, ventilated, and the waste monitored. The same cannot be said for the German ones, which are not in an arid climate. The choice of the WIPP site appears to have been based on proximity to Los Alamos and a former nuclear test site, arid climate, with classism and racism thrown in. The facility with which someone could bring in illegal Mexican workers – at least in the event of an accident – who could then be thrown back across the border, may well have been a consideration, in siting this fiasco called WIPP. Meanwhile the rich Casino Operators in Las Vegas are apparently blocking the opening of a solid, hard rock facility at Yucca mountain, which is at the Nevada nuclear test site, so the area is already highly contaminated anyway.