Kitty Litter Once Caused a Billion Dollar Clean-up in New Mexico
Our neighbors in New Mexico came close to a nuclear waste disaster. It was caused by a change in kitty litter and it cost $2 Billion to clean up.
New Mexico is home to the U.S.’s only nuclear dump. It’s the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and it’s situated about 30 miles southeast of Carlsbad. Because of the deadly nature of nuclear waste, it’s really out in the middle of nowhere.
In 2014, a 55-gallon drum of radioactive waste burst open. It took a while to figure out but when they finally did, the reason for the accident ended up being…a change in cat litter.
Were the workers at the plant disposing of their kitty litter in the nuclear waste dump? Not exactly. It turns out, that kitty litter is as good at soaking up radioactive material as it is soaking up cat pee.
Cat litter has been used for years in the disposal of radioactive waste. It serves as a stabilizer for the waste, preventing it from reacting with the environment. And, it works pretty well.
The REGULAR kitty litter, that is. Regular cat litter is made mostly of clay, a non-reactive substance. For some reason, the WIPP facility decided to make a change…to eco-friendly, ORGANIC kitty litter. Organic litter isn’t made mostly of clay, though. It’s mostly made with plant material.
That’s the kind of stuff that WILL react with the radioactive waste. One nuclear safety expert compared it to adding fuel to a fire: the organic plant material went into a slow-burn mode, like a glowing briquette of charcoal in the ashes of a campfire.
Once buried, the drum of radioactive waste started reacting to the organic kitty litter, and…well, let’s just say the cleanup required by the change in kitty litter ended up costing over TWO BILLION DOLLARS. It wasn’t just the one barrel, though. 500 of the barrels had been filled with the WRONG kind of cat litter.
Our own Joanna Barba isn’t a nuclear scientist but she IS a cat owner. She confirmed to us that the organic kitty litter doesn’t do a great job on cat pee, either.