Surveys of the homes of seven Hanford workers began Wednesday after a spread of radioactive contamination at the nuclear reservation’s Plutonium Finishing Plant in recent days.
The total number of vehicles reported to be contaminated with apparent specks of radioactive material increased to 14 from the eight reported Tuesday.
At least two may have been driven home by workers at the plant after demolition was completed Friday on the most contaminated portion of the plant, the Plutonium Reclamation Facility.
“No spread of contamination on site — outside of posted radiation areas — or off site is acceptable,” said Doug Shoop, manager of the DOE Richland Operations Office, in a message to all Hanford employees on Wednesday. “We expect that personnel on the Hanford Site are protected and that the public is not put at risk.”
Never miss a local story.
More than 100 vehicles were surveyed to find the 14 reported to be contaminated. Seven belonged to workers and seven to contractors or the government.
One, which was owned by tank farm contractor Washington River Protection Solutions, had not been at the Plutonium Finishing Plant but was used to support work at a nearby facility.
It had routinely been driven on roads near the plant.
Spots of radioactive contamination were found on the other side of Camden Avenue from the plant, but not on the roadway, said Tom Bratvold, vice president for the plant closure for contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.
The road runs north and south to the east of the plant on the secure portion of the nuclear reservation, where the public is not allowed.
Contamination was found on the interior of the vehicle. The vehicle is occasionally driven into the Tri-Cities, but its most recent trip into Richland was a week earlier, according to Hanford officials.
CH2M workers were told Wednesday that they should have any vehicles surveyed for contamination if they had been driven near the Plutonium Finishing Plant since Friday.
The limited number of vehicles that used a dirt road just south of the project earlier in the month when there was another contamination spread also should be surveyed, workers were told.
Access to the plant site continued to be restricted Wednesday.
The seven Hanford workers with contaminated vehicles requested surveys of their homes to make sure they had not tracked contamination home. No contamination was found inside worker vehicles.
Washington Department of Health experts from its Office of Radiation Protection were accompanying Hanford officials on the home checks Wednesday to observe and verify results.
The surveys take several hours for each home as floors, counters, furniture and furnace filters are checked for possible contamination. No contamination had been found by mid-afternoon Tuesday.
The contamination spread had been “sequestered and controlled” at the plant site Wednesday, Bratvold said.
It is unacceptable to us that we had contamination get away. It is also unacceptable to us that we didn’t follow our processes for notifications so that we could take timely action on this condition.
Ty Blackford, president of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.
“The facility is in a safe and stable condition,” he said.
A failure to communicate Friday night delayed response to the incident, said Ty Blackford, president of CH2M at Hanford, on Wednesday.
“It is unacceptable to us that we had contamination get away,” Blackford said. “It is also unacceptable to us that we didn’t follow our processes for notifications so that we could take timely action on this condition.”
Crews found radioactive contamination that had spread outside a contamination control zone established around the demolition area as an end-of-work check was being done.
But the shift manager was not notified so work to control the contamination could be scheduled starting Saturday.
Saturday was a day off for plant workers, with some of them returning to work Sunday to continue to stabilize debris left from Friday’s demolition of the reclamation facility.
A stop to demolition was called by CH2M officials before work started Sunday, although no demolition had been scheduled that day. Work did continue to stabilize the rubble pile ahead of a forecast for windy weather Sunday night.
Our focus continues to be on the safety of our workers and we want everyone to have no doubt they are safe and protected.
Ty Blackford, president of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co, in employee message
As surveys for radioactive contamination were done Monday, more contamination was found in areas outside the demolition’s contamination control zone that had been surveyed as clean before the windy night.
Some Hanford workers, including those who were not assigned to work at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, have requested checks for inhaled or ingested radioactive contamination.
Monitors have detected no airborne contamination related to the latest spread, Bratvold said. The contamination appears to have been swept along the ground.
However, workers who request the checks done by bioassays of body waste, will receive them.
Bioassay results are pending for several workers who may have been exposed to airborne radioactive particles in an incident earlier this month.
The lapel monitors they were wearing tested positive for airborne contamination when they were working well away from the demolition site in an area where respiratory protection was not expected to be needed.
The control area was expanded then and is being expanded again following the contamination spread that apparently began on Friday.
Demolition of the remainder of the Plutonium Finishing Plant will not resume until the Department of Energy approves a new plan with reduced risk, Shoop said.
“We have in general a concept that we have presented to the department,” Blackford said.
A letter from Blackford to Shoop outlines some steps, such as expanding the control area boundary and working with other nearby projects that might be affected, but details have not been worked out.
Not only DOE, but also workers will have input as CH2M makes plans to safely proceed with the remainder of the demolition of the plant and stabilizing what is left of it as demolition is completed down to the foundation, Blackford said.
The plant demolition was required by the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement to be down to “slab on grade” by Sept. 30 of this year.
But after the deadline was missed, the regulator on the project, the Washington Department of Ecology, has not pushed for a speedy completion out of concern that the high-hazard work is done safely.
All that is left standing of the plant is a section with two processing lines where plutonium that came into the plant in a liquid solution was turned into hockey-puck sized buttons to be sent to the nation’s nuclear weapons manufacturing plant.
Before the contamination spread, the end of demolition was estimated to be just weeks away.