Officials at Los Alamos downplayed the lab's nuclear waste dangers and failed to disclose critical information that led to a dangerous leak in February that exposed at least 20 workers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) to radiation contamination. An investigation by the New Mexican reveals the errors that led to the dangerous leak. When a batch of nuclear waste was too acidic to be safely shipped, workers did not shut down the lab, as it was supposed to do. Instead, they combined it with an organic kitty littler that essentially transformed it into “a potential bomb that one lab chemist later characterized as akin to plastic explosives,” according to the New Mexican. A 55-gallon drum of the material was sent to WIPP. On February 14, the lid of the gallon cracked open and released radiation into air. Emails show that Los Alamos officials did not disclose the true materials in the gallon to WIPP officials and withheld information, even from managers whose employees were endangered by the waste. Systematic errors, as well as a culture of lax oversight, appear to have played a major role in the dangerous leak. Los Alamos National Security LLC, the private company that operates the lab, may also have been motivated to hide the errors to renew its $2.2 billion contract with the federal government.
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