Officials from WIPP and DOE were in attendance at a weekly town hall meeting on the series of incidents at the WIPP nuclear site. A rather long list of blunt questions came from the local audience, online audience and the press. The official from the WIPP contractor and DOE were unable to answer many of the questions asked. There was no one from Los Alamos (the source of the exploding barrels) or NMED (New Mexico Environmental Department) in attendance at the meeting.
What they were able to tell people was that the entry on May 15th did give them some new information. The barrels in question were in row 16, column 4 towards the top of the stack. The two drums that failed contained “organic material”. They further clarified it to be nitrate salts with organic absorbents. We were able to confirm through other channels that the organic material was a wheat based cat litter. They confirmed that 55 of the barrels in panel 7, room 7 were the same barrel type from Los Alamos that contain nitrate salts and organic absorbent. The nitrate salts were a byproduct of plutonium processing at Los Alamos and were described as a sludge from evaporators.
Beyond this set of information they were unable to answer most questions.
1. Have you inspected the 51 barrels of surplus non-pit weapons grade plutonium from Savannah River that are stored in panel 7 room 7, what is their condition?
This one they answered that no they had not.
2. What is the proximity of the 51 barrels plutonium oxide barrels from Savannah River to the LANL barrels that are currently suspect?
They were unable to answer this question, said they would need to look it up.
3. Has the diatomaceous earth used to inert the Savannah River non-pit weapons grade plutonium converted to puox in the 51 barrels in question been tested against heat and blast impacts?
They were unable to answer this question, said they would look into it.
4. Was the wheat based “kitty litter” used in the LANL nitrate salts barrels tested before the switch from vermiculite was made? Who approve the change of solidifying materials?
They were unable to answer this question and stated that this is part of an investigation at Los Alamos but right now nobody knows anything about the change from vermiculite to organic wheat based kitty litter. They did not know who made the absorbent or what brand etc. it might be.
5. Of the 79 barrels in room 7 identified as being from a similar waste stream from Los Alamos as the two that exploded, how many were solidified with this organic wheat kitty litter substance?
They considered 55 barrels in room 7 to be of the same waste stream that contained nitrate salts and organic kitty litter and confirmed that all of those 55 barrels had the organic kitty litter as the absorbent.
6. The question was asked about how WIPP will make changes to comply with the safety issues found in the recent incident report by DOE DNFSB.
They were unable to answer this question.
7. Is there a corridor running the full length of Room 7 in Panel 7?
They did eventually confirm no there was not but seemed a bit confused by the question.
8. They were asked about swipe tests in the underground again this week.
They were unable to provide any of those readings and said everything was being sent offsite for analysis.
The meeting can be replayed here. They appear to have combined the previous weeks meeting and this week’s meeting due to a URL glitch. So the meeting for tonight may be after the meeting from the 15th.
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