Tuesday News Roundup: Kitty Litter Explored In Radiation Leak

May 13, 2014

WIPP Investigators Find Melted Plastic, Rubber – The Associated Press, Carlsbad Current Argus

UPDATE: A mysterious radiation release that has indefinitely shuttered the federal government's only permanent nuclear waste dump may have been caused by a switch in the type of kitty litter that is mixed with the toxic waste.

That's one of the theories that officials are exploring.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that a scientist who worked at the facility until 2010 says he believes a change from non-organic to organic litter caused a chemical reaction inside a waste drum, releasing the radioactive isotopes.

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn confirmed he has heard Department of Energy officials discuss the possibility that kitty litter may have been to blame for the radiation leak. Flynn says it's just one of many theories the DOE is exploring and nothing's certain right now.


Investigators trying to determine what caused a radiation release at the federal government's underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico have spotted melted plastic and rubber on some drums and boxes of waste. 

They were able to take photographs of the melted material during their most recent trip into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

WIPP recovery officials say the melted material indicates there was some kind of heat generated in the room where the waste stored.

The radiation release in February exposed some workers and halted all shipments to the repository.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Energy have theorized that the release could have been caused by a chemical reaction in some of the drums. They're also looking at other possibilities.

Albuquerque Officer Lapel Footage Gone In 2 CasesThe Associated Press, KOAT

An Albuquerque officer whose lapel camera footage of his shooting of a 19-year-old woman has not been recovered also did not record two other cases where possible excessive force was used.

Records obtained by KOAT-TV show that Jeremy Dear's lapel camera wasn't working when he allegedly punch a man during a January 2013 fight nor was it working when he allegedly kicked a man in the groin during a traffic stop a month later.

Albuquerque officers are required to record all interaction with the public.

The information comes as Albuquerque police have yet to release details three weeks after Dear shot and killed 19-year-old woman Mary Hawkes in a suspected auto theft case.

Critics say the lack of information is causing more distrust of Albuquerque police amid 39 police shootings since 2010 and pending U.S. Justice Department reforms.

Bernalillo County To Work On Jail ImprovementsThe Associated Press, Albuquerque JournalNew Mexico's most populous county has agreed to improve certain conditions of its jail as part of inmates' class-action lawsuit.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Bernalillo County's agreement is part of a court order filed Monday that centers on crowding and other conditions inside the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Under the order, jail officials and lawyers for inmates will work on changes with the court's jail operations expert.

Those changes will include writing new policies on inmates' violations of jail rules and on when jail officers may use force.

Other changes will deal with how many officers are needed inside the jail and with separation of violent inmates from non-violent inmates.

The court's expert would be able to issue binding decisions to resolve disagreements.


Latest Storm Brings Snow, Cold Temperatures To NM – The Associated Press

Crews are out plowing roads and spreading salt and cinder on highways in northern New Mexico as the latest storm to cross the state brings with it snow and cold temperatures.

The state Transportation Department reported Monday evening that driving conditions were difficult in the Red River and Black Lake areas. Snow was accumulating on U.S. 64 west of Interstate 25 and other state highways in the area.

Authorities were warning travelers to be careful and to slow down.

They say travel could also be affected at Glorieta Pass near Santa Fe, Raton Pass near the Colorado border and the Clines Corners area.

The National Weather Service says the late season snow is expected to continue today. The heaviest snow was expected in the northern mountains and upper Rio Grande Valley.

Governor Martinez Urges Cities To Restrict Fireworks – The Associated Press

As fire rages in southwestern New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez is urging city leaders around the state to consider limiting fireworks.

The governor sent a letter to local leaders Monday saying drought conditions, strong winds and warm temperatures have combined for high fire danger and increased risk in many parts of the state.

Martinez is urging municipalities and counties to hold meetings in the coming weeks to discuss and potentially vote on local restrictions or bans on the use of fireworks.

Under state law, local governments must approve drought-based fireworks restrictions at least 20 days before a holiday that allows the sale of fireworks. Cities and counties can ban the sale and use of certain fireworks — firecrackers and aerial fireworks, such as roman candles and bottle rockets.

Albuquerque City Council Protest Lawsuit Eyed The Associated Press

Demonstrators removed from an Albuquerque city council meeting for holding a silent protest over police shootings say they are preparing to file a free speech lawsuit.

Protest organizer David Correia told The Associated Press that he and three other demonstrators who received citations banning them from City Hall for 90 days are meeting with American Civil Liberties Union lawyers this week.

On Thursday, protesters were escorted out by police after they refused to speak at the podium, instead turning their backs to Albuquerque councilors because of new rule changes they say limit free speech.

Councilors adopted stricter rules on public comments following a rowdy meeting earlier in the week where demonstrators packed the chambers, demanded that Police Chief Gorden Eden face a citizen's arrest and forced councilors to adjourn.

Governor’s Campaign Raises $561,000 The Associated Press

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez maintains a large fundraising advantage over the five Democrats seeking to challenge her in the November general election.

Martinez's campaign on Monday reported raising $561-thousand dollars in the past month and cash-on-hand of $4-point-2 million dollars.

Santa Fe businessman Alan Webber is the leading Democratic fundraiser with about $115-thousand dollars in contributions, followed by Lawrence Rael with $58-thousand dollars; Howie Morales, has $22-thousand dollars; Attorney General Gary King, $12-thousand; and Linda Lopez with $10-thousand.

The winner of the June 3 Democratic primary will face Martinez in November.

Webber reported cash-on-hand of nearly $455,900 as of last week. Rael had nearly $209,600, followed by $48,300 for King, Morales with $44,700 and nearly $14,000 for Lopez.

Monday was the deadline for candidates to file reports showing fundraising from April 8 through May 5.

New Mexico Film Office To Host Industry Conference The Associated Press

The New Mexico Film Office is planning a conference aimed at helping businesses tap into the industry.

Film Office Director Nick Maniatis says the office will host its second annual New Mexico Film & Media Industry Conference in Albuquerque on May 30 and 31.

He says the conference is designed for both established businesses as well as those that haven't traditionally serviced the film, television and media industry.

He says the free two-day networking event at the Hotel Albuquerque will offer panels, presentations and interviews not readily available to film industry professionals in New Mexico. The audience will include established filmmakers, producers, crew, digital artists and post production professionals as well as vendors and government officials.