It's Official, Cat Litter Caused a Drum of Nuclear Waste to Explode  

By Sarah Zhang on at

A drum full of radioactive waste exploded at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico last February, sparking serious safety concerns about the U.S.'s only longterm nuclear storage site. A yearlong government investigation has officially fingered the long-suspected culprit: cat litter.

cat litter? Yes, inorganic cat litter is commonly used to pack nuclear waste. But the contractor switched to wheat-based organic cat litter, which reacted with existing chemicals in the waste. "The nitrate salt residues, organic sorbent (Swheat Scoop® ), and neutralisation agent (triethanolamine) known to be present represent a potentially reactive chemical mixture of fuels and oxidisers," concludes the report's summary. All 277 pages of the full report are available here.

The technical investigation doesn't explain why the switch was made, but last year, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported it may have all started with a dumb typo. Read more about it below.


AP Photo/Waste Isolation Pilot Plant