The half billion nuclear kitty litter incident

The half billion nuclear kitty litter incident

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We’ve all made this type of mistake. A good friend asks you to select up some organic chicken and you purchase free-range eggs, or your partner asks for a dozen flowers and also you deliver again a dozen baggage of flour. It’s worse if you end up ordering gadgets on-line and in a second language. Ever order one eggplant and obtain one dozen? These issues occur to the most effective of us. But think about being the one that prompted a nuclear accident by ordering the mistaken kitty litter?

It occurred in February 2014 at a nuclear weapons waste processing facility for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Anyone concerned could also be making an attempt exhausting to neglect that it ever occurred. The confusion started with a typo in a request for “kitty litter/zeolite clay.” (Zeolites can also be used in energy storage as I wrote here).

At some level this was changed with kitty litter (clay). This was additional reworked into an order for natural cat litter, particularly the sWheat Scoop model which the producer claims is 100% wheat. Now whereas the phrase natural has a people that means to environmentalists and hipsters at your native cafe, to chemists it means one thing extra particular.

According to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) hyperglossary, the natural definition –– within the context of chemistry and supplies, natural refers to a supplies based mostly on carbon (a chemical factor abbreviated as C). Additional components which are generally present in natural supplies are hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), phosphorus (P) and sulfur (S).

An unrelated and complicated definition of natural is used most frequently in reference to “pure” meals. For instance, a easy definition of “natural produce” is fruits or greens which have been raised with out using pesticides or herbicides. Of course, many pesticides and herbicides are literally themselves natural (utilizing both or each definitions of “natural”).

Materials that aren’t natural are normally known as inorganic.

sWheatScoop kitty litter might have match each the chemist and hipster definition of natural. But it was not what the nuclear waste chemists had been searching for. To additional confuse issues, zeolite isn’t a clay though it comprises lots of the identical components as clay and has some associated properties. Zeolite takes in water by adsorption right into a porous microstructure whereas clay slips water molecules between atomic sheets an a course of referred to as adsorbtion. (Apologies to autocorrect, sure adsorbtion and absorption actually are two various things.)

So the boss’s request for zeolite clay may as properly have been a request for a magic-colored unicorn, it doesn’t exist on this universe. Such is the imprecision of human languages in our difficult world.

Don’t do that at dwelling

Green Prophet recently covered the possibilities of using Zeolite for energy storage and this superb mineral has many extra methods up its sleeve. But whereas it might sound apparent that something able to detoxifying cat pee can be equally efficient for nuclear waste disposal, this isn’t essentially true.

The downside with utilizing 100% natural wheat-based natural kitty litter in your nuclear waste disposal as an alternative of zeolite (non-clay) kitty litter has to do with its reactivity and flammability when confined in a barrel with plutonium, americium, uranium and nitrate-based processing chemical substances when in comparison with zeolite. It doesn’t assist that each one of this takes place deep underground in an deserted salt mine the place there’s far more salt and nuclear waste than there are individuals to look at it.

So the issue wasn’t found till barrel #68660 burst, releasing radiation right into a air flow system. It is believed that a number of hundred nuclear waste barrels had been contaminated with the mistaken type of kitty litter. The price of the cleanup is alleged to have been greater than half a billion.

So the following time you assume you’ve had a nasty day, consider this story and picture how a lot worse it might be. And watch out with off-label makes use of of kitty litter.

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