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Laboratory releases cause of chemical reaction at TA-21

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LANL: Nickel tetracarbonyl was the culprit

By John Severance

The Los Alamos National Laboratory confirmed what caused the chemical reaction in a bottle containing liquid drawn for a 60-year-old cylinder at Technical Area 21, which caused lab officials to summon Hazmat and emergency personnel March 14.

LANL spokesperson Colleen Curran said this week that the chemical that reacted was nickel tetracarbonyl, which was used in a variety of industrial processes.

According to Websters Dictionary, nickel tetracarbonyl is a volatile flammable poisonous liquid compound Ni(CO)4 obtained by passing carbon monoxide over finely divided nickel and readily decomposed by heating.

Los Alamos County fire, environmental and law enforcement officials also were contacted during the incident. Los Alamos police closed off DP Road to traffic for two hours.

According to the lab, the worker, who was performing the work when the reaction occurred, was wearing full protective gear, including supplied air, so the worker was safely protected. The work was conducted inside the metal structure, which was equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air and activated carbon filtration system.  Monitoring confirmed there was no chemical release.

Curran said the three remaining cylinders are being packed into “overpacks,” which are Department of Transportation-approved, specialized containers designed to contain contents under pressure. LANL sent those containers to a commercial facility to open and dispose of the contents.