Cat Litter's Role in Nuclear Leak Still Unproven

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Labs fail to replicate the reaction hypothesized to have ruptured a storage drum.

Laboratories failed to replicate a cat-litter reaction hypothesized to have ruptured a storage drum in an underground nuclear-waste dump, Reuters reports.

Neither Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico nor any of the nation's other atomic research centers have produced the type of thermal reaction tentatively blamed for a February contamination release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Energy Department spokeswoman Lindsey Geisler said on Friday. The breach was theoretically caused by a cat-litter and nitrate-salt packing mix placed in hundreds of waste barrels at the Los Alamos facility.

"There’s still a lot we don’t know," Geisler said. The waste complex near Carlsbad has remained largely off-limits since the release spread radioactive particles to 22 workers earlier this year.

The Energy Department is examining possible alternative methods of dealing with materials previously scheduled for shipment to the repository, Geisler added.

Fully resuming operations at the subterranean storage site may require up to 36 months, according to oversight officials. A lengthy recovery period would raise questions over how to handle waste containers previously slated for shipment to the facility from Los Alamos, Idaho National Laboratory and other locations, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a contamination threat from problematic waste drums has focused new attention on a legal action against New Mexico's state government, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported on Friday. The Southwest Research and Information Center's 2-year-old lawsuit challenges New Mexico's decision to permit use of a new type of waste container without first consulting the public.

State environment personnel stood by their actions in court last week, according to the New Mexican.

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