From the Tri-City Herald
by Annette Cary
November 20, 2019
Work has halted at Hanford to remove a highly radioactive spill just north of Richland after an eighth incident this year in which a worker’s clothing or skin was contaminated with radioactive waste.
The 324 Building sits over a leak of radioactive cesium and strontium into the soil beneath it at the site about one mile north of Richland and about 300 yards west of the Columbia River.
“Although individually the contamination levels (on workers) have been low and no dose has been assigned to workers, collectively the number of personnel contamination events indicate a negative trend in contamination control that corrective actions taken to date have been inadequate to address,” the Department of Energy wrote in a Nov. 14 letter to its contractor on the project, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.
Dose is a calculation of the radioactive exposure to the worker.
Earlier the same day that DOE sent the letter, CH2M had stopped work at the Hanford nuclear reservation’s 324 Building — one of several temporary halts to at least some of the work there this year.
Joe Franco, the DOE deputy manager at the DOE Richland Operations Office, told CH2M in the letter that he would not allow work to resume in the highly contaminated areas of the 324 Building until the company had developed a plan of correction and DOE had agreed on the path forward.
“(The Richland Operations Office) expects that workers at Hanford are protected from personnel radiological contamination while accomplishing our important Hanford mission,” Franco said.
The building has been left standing over the contaminated spill and the contamination to workers had been contained within the building, so the public is not at risk.
The building prevents precipitation from reaching the spill beneath it to carry it closer to the groundwater and also can be used to shield workers from radiation.
324 BUILDING WORK COMPLICATED
After the Tri-City Herald asked DOE for information about the Nov. 14 letter, Brian Vance sent a message to all Hanford employees on Wednesday afternoon saying that work within the building continues to be challenging “due to the high levels of radioactivity in the soil beneath the building.”
CH2M is working on improving “radiological practices and controls in the building by taking a holistic look at the full spectrum of operations,” Vance said. “Cleanup work in radiologically controlled areas inside the building will not resume without proper DOE oversight and approval.”
Ty Blackford, president of CH2M at Hanford, also sent a message to his employees Wednesday afternoon saying that work at the 324 Building has become more complicated.
He said work was stopped late last week after low-level contamination was discovered on an employee’s skin as they were leaving an area known to be contaminated within the building and checks were being done.
“The employee was easily decontaminated using standard techniques,” Blackford said.