Flame, noise stops some work at Hanford plant

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMay 5, 2014 

Work continues to remove gloveboxes from the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant.

HERALD FILE

Work to cut contaminated piping or equipment into smaller pieces at Hanford's Plutonium Finishing Plant has stopped after an incident April 17.

Workers were cutting a 1-inch diameter pipe into smaller pieces so it would fit inside a waste container when they heard a loud noise, said Dee Millikin, spokeswoman for CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.

They also briefly saw a small, orange-red flame at the end of the pipe, she said.

The work was being done inside a sealed plastic containment bag that had ports with gloves attached so workers could reach inside the bag without exposure and do the cutting inside the bag, she said. The workers also were wearing required protective equipment, she said.

The bag was not burned and employees saw no sign of damage or pressurization of the bag, she said. Surveys after the incident did not detect any spread of contamination.

Employees responded appropriately, and work on that project and any similar work has been stopped while an investigation is conducted, Millikin said. The investigation will include a thorough examination of the pipe and a determination of what was inside it so steps can be taken to prevent a similar incident.

The piping came from a glove box that was not on the main production line at the plant, which was used to turn plutonium separated from irradiated fuel rods into metal buttons the size of hockey pucks. The buttons were shipped off Hanford to be fabricated for use in the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The piping came from a "scrubber cell" used to scrub materials, Millikin said.

Glove boxes, which allow workers to insert their hands through attached gloves into a closed box work with radioactive material, and other equipment are being cleaned out of the Plutonium Finishing Plant to allow its demolition.

Work is slightly behind schedule at the plant, said John Ciucci, chief operating officer for CH2M Hill, at a U.S. House Nuclear Caucus briefing organized last week by Rep. Doc Hastings.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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