Every answer about WIPP provokes more questions.

THE KITTY LITTER THEORY

The popular theory that has been advanced as to the cause of the WIPP plutonium and americium release, which is apparently believed by the Department of Energy (DOE), is that a switch was made from inorganic kitty litter (clay or diatomaceous earth) to organic kitty litter, as an absorbent in containers of nuclear waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Nitrate salts were also added, and the combination of these substances caused a chemical reaction that caused an explosion in one of more containers.

This theory was advanced by James Conca, but has not been confirmed. No chemist, including Conca, would ever have OK’d such a thing. And the change was not approved by the New Mexico Environment Department.

Here Don Hancock, an expert from the watchdog group SRIC weighs in:

Bull Shit! Radioactive "Leak" blamed on "Organic" Kitty Litter at WIPP

The kitty litter theory seems to be ridiculous. Why would they do such a thing? Clay is inert, and binds to plutonium with a strength that science has not fully explained. Organic ingredients emit gases when they decompose, and the addition of nitrate salts cause a chemical reaction. Cost? What could be cheaper than the ingredients of plain kitty litter?

MAYBE IT WAS pH BALANCERS

But it came out that the agent responsible for the chemical reaction might have been an organic-based pH balancer. This is making a little more sense, but not much more.

The emails trace LANL’s approval of two products requested by contractor EnergySolutions, which packages LANL waste, to neutralize the pH balance of drum contents sent to WIPP.

The products contain organic ingredients known to be incompatible with the nitrate salts present in the LANL waste containers – “a bad combination,” according to Cole Smith, a chemist in NMED’s Hazardous Waste Bureau.

EnergySolutions asked LANL managers for approval in a May 2013 email to switch to one of the products. LANL approved the change a month later – despite product warnings clearly stating that the product is incompatible with metallic nitrates and “strong oxidizers,” such as nitrate salts, both of which are found in the LANL drums.

Nitrates and organic matter are known to oxidize, a reaction that generates heat.

The other product mentioned in an email was a new liquid to neutralize acids and bases in the drums. When Zeke Wilmot, EnergySolutions industrial hygienist, asked in an August 2013 email for approval to use the product, he notes that “criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise” and “it may be advisable to have LANL personnel weigh in on these issues as well.”

A subcontract technical representative for LANL environmental programs responded to Wilmot and approved the change in a September 2013 email copied to eight other people. The approved product also contains an organic ingredient.

“It wasn’t the most fantastic choice because nitrate salts in combination with organics is a bad mixture,” said Smith, who also serves on the NMED team that writes the permit for WIPP.

“That might be the problem right there,” said William Quintana, head of the New Mexico State University chemistry department. “Nitrates are oxidizers. Every chemist knows that.” (link)

There is some question as to whether a criticality occurred at WIPP, that is, a nuclear chain reaction. This could have contributed to the explosion, and created more radioactive materials to be released, activation products, which are produced by the interaction of neutrons with the containers and other materials underground in the WIPP mine. There were no measurements made of these isotopes, so we don’t know whether this happened or not.

One of the pH neutralizers used was Spilfyter Kolorsafe acid neutralizer, which was used exclusively after April 2013. The material safety data sheet for this product indicates:

Section 7. Handling and Storage

Avoid high heat and/or freezing conditions. Keep container tightly closed. Suitable for general chemical storage under normal warehouse conditions.

NOTE: If this product is stored at temperatures >150 °F or at elevations above 5000 feet, gas may form, increasing the pressure within the container, causing the container to bulge. If bulging occurs, remove the container from the work area and slowly open the container to release the gas.

Be sure to wear proper personal protective equipment.

The product is not supposed to be stored at elevations over 5,000 feet, because it may release gas. Los Alamos is at an elevation of 7,300 feet.

BOOM!

So this theory make a little more sense, it is not quite as stupid as the switch to organic kitty litter, but it is still stupid. At least there is a plausible motive for it.

IT’S ALL ABOUT MONEY

Mitigating the internal chemistry of these drums, once filled, would have been (and is now) expensive, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous. For all these reasons it must have been unpopular with LANL management, especially once an agreement (the “Framework Agreement”) was made (and widely publicized in the local press) to get these and other drums totaling 3,706 cubic meters of TRU waste off “The Hill” by June 30, 2014. Governor Martinez was prominently identified with this plan, the details of which (and political context of) this organization is not in a position to fully assess.

Suffice it to say that we doubt the value of the Framework Agreement and the wisdom of process that was followed to get it.[3]

Completion of this Agreement was also specifically written into the (very brief and vague) LANS annual Performance Evaluation Plan (PEP) for fiscal year (FY) 2014 as a contract requirement (“Successfully, and cost effectively, complete Framework Agreement commitments to the New Mexico Environmental Department…”, p. 7 here).

In FY13, LANS was docked one year of contract award term (worth about $2 billion in gross income) for failure to meet contract requirements – primarily for having to shut down most of PF-4’s operations starting in June of last year. (PF-4 operations have not yet fully restarted, the topic of the next Bulletin.) The previous year (FY2012), LANS received a “one-time waiver” from the recommended consequences of its failure that year to meet the minimum award term extension requirements, in part because a quarter-billion-dollar security improvement project was mismanaged. More details of what turned out to be a highly controversial ruling by Acting NNSA Administrator Neile Miller at the time are on this page. Ms. Miller no longer works for the government.

Part of the LANS management fee is also dependent on successful completion of the Framework Agreement. As matters stand now, LANL will miss the (quite artificial) deadline and has caused an accident and ongoing safety hazard that places several program management objectives at LANL and WIPP at risk – a strong black mark under several performance measures.

For all these reasons, LANL was under considerable pressure to process and ship its legacy nitrate salt wastes. Perceived or real “production pressure” is a common cause of accidents in the DOE weapons complex, as elsewhere. (link)

So there was a financial motive involved. The private corporation Los Alamos National Security (LANS), which runs LANL, was under pressure to meet a deadline, and would have suffered financially by not meeting it. What does it matter if 200 million people have to breathe plutonium? It’s all about money. Of course, it’s too late now.

So there are still 368 drums at WIPP from this waste stream that are at risk of exploding. Also 57 containers are in a tent at Los Alamos (how reassuring, a freaking tent), and 116 have been shipped to WCS in Andrews, Texas. WCS is little more than just a hole in the ground.

BUT MAYBE IT DIDN’T COME FROM LOS ALAMOS AFTER ALL

Don Hancock above mentioned that it has not been confirmed that the waste involved came from Los Alamos, but the DOE believes it has. He mentioned Idaho National Laboratory (INL) as a possible source for the waste.

The top of the following graphic shows the isotope measurements for the WIPP release, measured at Station A. The bottom shows the average isotope concentrations for the LA-MIN02-V.001 waste stream from Los Alamos, which has been identified to be the source to the plutonium and americium release.

The WIPP measurements show there was 2 times as much Americium-241 released as Plutonium 239+240. The waste stream analysis shows that there was 92 times as much Plutonium-239+240 in the waste as Americium-241.

That is a huge difference in the isotopic ratios. There is 184 times as much americium as would have been expected from the average amounts in the waste stream.

While there are individual differences in the drums, and since we don’t know how much Plutonium-241 was released from WIPP, it is possible that the WIPP release came from this waste stream, though it really seems unlikely, and the container had to have been an “outlier” that did not reflect the average proportions of isotopes in the waste. If it turns out that more than one container contributed to the WIPP release, this becomes wildly improbable.

Maybe this is has all been a smokescreen to obscure the presence of much more dangerous high-level waste from a site like INL or Hanford.

THE INCREDIBLY TINY AMOUNTS OF PLUTONIUM AND AMERICIUM THAT ARE DANGEROUS

Well, this is what it is all about. We have seen what cesium-137 from Fukushima is doing to Japan. It will be active for 300 years. Plutonium-239 will be active for 241,000 years.

The ALI limits in the publication Medical Management of Internally Radiocontaminated Patients (p. 44) show that americium-241 and plutonium-239 are dangerous at one-33,000th the amount of cesium-137. One 55-gallon drum of cesium-137 could conaminate the USA for 300 years:

Dividing this volume by 33,000 gives us the volume of seven 00 capsules:

Seven 00 capsules of WIPP plutonium could irradiate the USA for 241,000 years

Fukushima activity is on the rise. Health update.

Fukushima activity is on the rise. These sludge results are around 3 weeks old, but iodine-131 in Tokyo hasn’t been this high since January, and Gunma hasn’t been this high since last September. Increased fission is happening. Certainly both rain and air radiation detections have been elevated lately in North America – there have been significantly elevated readings in Arkansas, Michigan, and Ontario.

The Chiba sludge readings are late… they changed to a once a month publication, and that is even late.

A update about my health issues: Around April 1 I developed a very bad case of the flu. I had a high fever and was in and out of delirium for days. At the same time, I developed these weird symptoms, with fingertips pruney and puckered like just having gone for a swim in the pool. I also had red patches under my cuticles, and some fingernails turned pink and purple. I have psoriasis, but this is not psoriasis.

I was having a severe psoriasis flare at the time I got sick. And it got worse. But after two weeks, the psoriasis suddenly started going away. At the same time, I developed nystagmus in my left eye. The nystagmus was uncomfortable, and I suddenly was experiencing blurred vision in this eye.

I believe that this secondary condition is something called ADEM, or acute disseminated enchephalomyelitis. It is a temporary condition, which is rare in the US, and somewhat less rare in developing countries like India. It is a demyelinating disease, which means that the immune system attacks the myelin sheath that covers nerve axons. It reduces the conductivity of the electrical transmission of nerve impulses. “Disseminated” means it affects both the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. It occurs after infections or vaccinations. But it is temporary, frequently goes away within a few days, and almost always is gone within three months.

The reason that this is interesting is that disseminated encephalomyelitis is a symptom of stage 3 of chronic radiation sickness. Weakened immunity is also a symptom of this. What made my psoriasis suddenly go away was a sudden drop in levels of interleukin-22 (IL-22). This cytokine is involved with immunity against viruses and bacteria.

ADEM itself gives flu-like symptoms, and also it is like a case of fibromyalgia from hell, where your head is swimming, and you can’t concentrate on anything.

Well, around the first of the month, I developed uveitis, or inflammation of the eye, along with blurred vision. This is a symptom of ankylosing spondylitis, which has a completely different immune profile than psoriasis. The nystagmus went away and was replaced by eyelid twitching. I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist for this, because uveitis carries the risk of blindness. I think it was last Saturday morning when I looked in the mirror and shuddered… because it looked like I was getting Bell’s palsy in addition to an inflamed eye. This is probably my low point since 3/11/11.

But the weather was nice, and I managed to lay out in the sun at the beach for a couple days. This usually heals me. When I went to my appointment, 5 days after I made it, the uveitis was gone. It went away as fast as the psoriasis did.

My eyeglass prescription for my left eye had changed though. I have been wearing eyeglasses for 52 years, but it never has changed so suddenly and drastically before.

I am still coughing, and I still have ear infections (otitis media). I’m not out of the woods yet. And since my immune system now goes through a revolution every two weeks, I’m not sure what to expect next. I still don’t want to look in the mirror.

Plutonium release figures from WIPP may not be fake, but simply irrelevant.

In a previous post, I discussed how unfiltered americium and plutonium was demonstrated to leak out of the WIPP facility in New Mexico for 20 days. I believed that the unfiltered material must have escaped through the same exhaust as the filtered material did, and it must have had to have been picked up by the Station B filter.

Now, according to the Wyka report, the exhaust air from the bypass dampers would have been routed through Station B, which contains filters that are used to test for the presence of radionuclides. (It doesn’t block or filter the exhaust, though.) So the plutonium and americium from the unblocked stream of contaminated air should have shown up at Station B.

But the Station A and B results show that the concentrations of americium and plutonium are consistent with the exhaust blowing through Station A, with its HEPA filter removing 99.97% of these particles, and this reduction was reflected in Station B, which measures what leaked out into the environment. In fact, this fact was touted as giving evidence that the ventilation system was working properly.

Where is the unblocked plutonium???

It sounds to me like, there is either another hole that the exhaust came up through, or the Station B results are fabricated.

The CEMRC results show the levels of americium and plutonium measured at Stations A and B. The Station A HEPA filters are supposed to be 99.97% efficient at removing these particles. I looked at the emissions up to Feb. 18 at 16:55.

Radionuclide     efficiency
------------     ----------
   Am-241          99.91%
 Pu-239+240        99.97%
   Pu-238          99.20%

These are very close to the expected efficiency parameters, so very little, if any, of the unfiltered radioactive material would have come out of the main exhaust. The unfiltered air contained more than 3,000 times as much plutonium per cubic meter than the filtered air. So this is a logical inconsistency, and without another exhaust present, these results would have to be fake.

But it appears that there really was another hole. According to the Wyka report, page 96:

Three smaller 860 fans, rated nominally at 60,000 cfm, draw ventilation through HEPA filtration and discharge to a small stack monitored for radiological release. The 860 fans can also exhaust the underground directly through a filtration bypass duct.

So the contaminated air could have escaped by the duct. It wouldn’t have shown up on the Station B filter, because it never went through it.

There was a “green burst” and arcing in the WIPP electrical substation shortly before the CAM alarm went off the night of Feb. 14. According to Potrblog:

That electrical substation is located directly next to the underground mine’s exhaust shaft. WIPP’s electrical substation ended up functioning exactly like a screaming Geiger counter. with each pop and “green burst” telling people to get the hell out of there. The radioactively ionized air allowed electrical arcing to occur across the substation resulting in WIPP’s site security reporting that electrical “GREEN BURST”. It is the scientific principal Geiger counters are based upon.

Americium is known to cause exactly this electrical discharge effect. That effect is why Americium is used in smoke detectors to produce a continuous state of ionization and electrical discharge, which when interrupted by smoke particles causes an alarm to sound.

It appears that the americium and plutonium had been escaping from the filtration bypass duct for some time. Eventually it built up enough to cause the “green burst”. Here is my theory:

1. No CAMs (underground continuous air monitors) were in use on Feb. 14. There are supposed to be 4 of them in use at all times.
2. Plutonium and americium were escaping from the filtration bypass duct. Eventually it built up to the point where are green burst was observed.
3. Somebody put 2 and 2 together and had the bright idea to turn one CAM on.
4. The CAM sounded the alarm, and workers got the filtration system working.
5. But americium and plutonium kept leaking out of the filtration bypass duct until March 6 at least.

The word has come out that WIPP may be shut down for 3 years. And New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn wants the waste panels to be closed.

Nuclear Waste Partnership Recovery Manager Jim Blankenhorn announced on Thursday that WIPP officials believe the radiation leak was likely caused by nuclear waste that contained nitrate salt which gave off some sort of a chemical reaction.

The waste with nitrate salt matched waste stored in drums that originated from three separate waste streams: two of the waste streams originated from LANL and the source of the other was unknown because DOE and NWP refused to name the source. WIPP has stored waste streams from LANL, Savannah River, and Idaho National Laboratory in the past.

“I’d rather not say the other one at this point and cause a lot of flurry,” Blankenhorn said. “Its not that it’s a big secret, but from a management perspective, I don’t want to cause a lot of angst.”

Flynn grilled DOE and NWP for not disclosing the other waste stream and continuing to not be forthright with the public.

“Mr. Blankenhorn identifies the waste stream, but then refuses to answer the question If you have information, then you need to disclose information with the public immediately,” Flynn said.

So what is this mystery waste stream? Is it high-level waste from Hanford?

The first graphic that follows is a HYSPLIT rendering of WIPP particles on the night of Feb. 17. HYSPLIT graphics for European contamination from WIPP follow. Radioactivity does not respect national borders.

The European maps were generated by the HYSPLIT atmospheric dispersion model. Here it is in Google Maps form.