Demolition temporarily halted at Washington plutonium plant

A contamination spread was detected at Handford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant in Richland.

February 2, 2017
CDR Staff
Demolition at Handford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant in Richland, Washington, was temporarily halted due to a spread of radioactive contamination outside of the plant, a report by the Tri-City Herald says. The cause of the spread is being investigated.

A radiation monitor alarm went off around 4:45 p.m. on Jan. 27 near a portion of the plant where demolition had stopped for the day. When the alarm sounded, a work crew was applying fixative to contain radioactive contamination on a waste pile outside of the area.

Workers on the site took cover as a precaution and contaminants were found beyond the outdoor zone, the report says, but it did not spread beyond the boundary surrounding the plant.

Low levels of contamination were found on the workers’ protective clothing but there were none on their street clothing or skin. According to the report, nasal smears were administered and found no evidence of inhaled contamination.

CH2M Hill, the contractor assigned to the project and headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, is investigating the cause of the spread, the report says.

Tear down started on the Plutonium Reclamation Facility built on one end of the main plant began in November 2016 and was already halted once before due to cold temperatures, the report says. After starting back up, workers were assigned to continue cleaning out the main part of the plant, which is still being prepared for demolition.

The Department of Energy plans to have the facility torn down by late April and the fan house demolished in August, the report says. A legal deadline requires the plant to be torn down to slab by September 2017.

According to the report, the plant processed two-thirds of the plutonium for the U.S.’ nuclear weapons program during the Cold War.