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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — New questions are being raised about what was mixed with the waste that caused a radiation release from the government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico.
The Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday that Los Alamos National Laboratory approved using products that some experts say are widely known to cause a heat reaction when mixed with other contents in the drums that were shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said the leading theory continues to be that the leak was caused by a reaction between nitrate salts and the organic cat litter packed with the waste to absorb moisture. However, emails posted online by the New Mexico Environment Department show Los Alamos approved using other organic ingredients known to be incompatible with nitrate salts in the waste.
Department chemist Cole Smith called the products “a bad combination.”
The emails show that Los Alamos approved the use of two products requested by contractor EnergySolutions to neutralize the pH balance of drums sent to the nuclear waste dump. In one email asking for approval in August 2013 to use a new liquid, EnergySolutions industrial hygienist Zeke Wilmot noted “criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise,” and said “it may be advisable to have LANL personnel weight in on these issues as well.”
A subcontractor approved the change in September.
In statements, officials with Los Alamos and WIPP said they continue to investigate all possible causes of the Feb. 14 radiation leak that contaminated 22 workers with low levels of radiation and has shuttered the federal government’s only permanent nuclear waste repository indefinitely. EnergySolutions did not respond to the newspaper’s interview request.