A few days before Charles Bowman wrote his retort to my letter, I asked the Los Alamos Daily Post and the Los Alamos Monitor to publish the correct gas composition of gases generated by radiolysis of cellulosics. The Post immediately corrected my online story to show the main gases were hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and lesser amounts of carbon monoxide, see Zerwekh (ref.1) and Kosiewicz (ref.2) cited below. Hereafter, I will just refer to them as ref. 1 and ref.2.
Bowman cites ref. 1 as showing radiolytic gas pressure doubling in one experiment in 21 days. He states, “We do not think this gas production rate is slow.” Once again, he ignores the fact that extremely high levels of radionuclide contamination were used – far above realistic TRU waste levels. From ref.1, p.8, “The experimental array was set up … in an attempt to compress 20-yr ‘retrievable storage time’ into 6 months experimental time … the actual quantities of 238Pu used were a factor of 40 higher …” than the energy from 200 g 239Pu. This is the maximum drum loading, limited by criticality. So, this experimental series was typically loaded +4,000 percent higher than the FGE limit and +80,000 percent higher than the estimated average (ref.2) of 10 g 239Pu in combustible waste drums in the LANL inventory.
In ref.2, p.93, the contamination level equivalencies ranged from 0.1 to 160X the criticality limit of 200 g 239Pu. This was a range of +200 percent to +320,000 percent of average TRU waste levels. At the higher, unrealistic contamination levels we certainly evolved gases which enabled us to measure them. As contamination levels decreased to lower levels, it became more difficult to measure the small, slowly evolved radiolytic gases. In fact, in ref.1 , Fig. 13, for the first six months of this experiment, no significant gas is shown to be evolved at a contamination level of +5,000 percent of average TRU waste levels!
Bowman, once again, errs by omission as his retort also ignored the presence of the drum filters. At such slow gas generation rates, gases would merely flow and / or diffuse out preventing drum pressurization. In LANL waste storage domes, these filters allow TRU waste drums to “inhale and exhale” in accordance with large diurnal temperature variations. No lids pop.
Consequently, I maintain my opinion that Bowman’s WIPP drum accident theory is implausible.
Ref.1, Zerwekh,A, LA-7674-MS, June 1979, unclassified LASL informal report.
Ref. 2, Kosiewicz, S., Nuclear Technology, V.54, pp. 92- 99, July 1981. (peer reviewed journal article)