Re: Nuke Weapon Mishaps--was Re: Bill Joy on the CBS evening news

From: Michael M. Butler (
Date: Sat Jan 06 2001 - 07:16:19 MST

One historical quibble on your otherwise quite worthwhile post: The way
I heard it, the "going critical" of the radwaste was a _chemical_
criticality, not a nuclear one. You didn't specify, but I like to get
that information out.

For those who don't know:

At least as I heard it, there was something like a mineshaft full of
contaminated stuff that was largely ammonium nitrate. That substance is
one which in crystalline form can achieve a chemical "critical mass"
("critical configuration" is probably a better term)--if you pile up
enough, the physical pressure on the bottom crystals causes detonation.
I'm not sure how far the detonation wave spreads. I believe they
delivered the waste as liquid or sludge, and it didn't stay liquid.

And yes, the end result was a large nuclear waste contaminated area. So
it doesn't blunt John's point, necessarily.

John Marlow wrote:

> As to Mikle Lorrey's comment on "failing" to prove a
> catastrophe resulting from nuclear mishaps--anyone
> recall a certain Russian radwaste storage facility
> going critical and devastating the surrounding
> countryside?

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