The number of vehicles contaminated with specks of radioactive material at Hanford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant has jumped to 19 as checks continue.
As of about 2 p.m. Wednesday, 12 government or contractor vehicles had been found with radioactive contamination, with 55 of 86 vehicles still to be surveyed. The number increased from seven contaminated government and contractor vehicles discovered before the Christmas weekend.
The dozen government and contractor vehicles are in addition to seven worker cars or pickups found to have specks of contamination since demolition was completed Dec. 15 on the most contaminated section of the plant, the Plutonium Reclamation Facility.
Post-demolition surveying found specks of radioactive material, some too small to see, had spread outside the demolition zone set up to control the spread of radioactive contamination.
The highly contaminated plant has been cleaned out, but demolition with heavy equipment is still high-hazard work. Contamination that can easily become airborne remains after 40 years of work to process plutonium produced at Hanford into hockey-puck sized “buttons” and plutonium oxide powder to be shipped to the nation’s nuclear weapons production facilities.
The last of the seven contaminated worker vehicles was decontaminated and returned to its owner Wednesday, according to the Department of Energy.
Checks for more radioactive contamination that may have spread have continued, with none found since last week. However, the three to five inches of snow in recent days has interrupted some work.
Hanford officials called a halt to some checks for radioactive contamination in some areas while there is snow. Workers must wear protective gear in areas where contamination is most likely, which limits traction and puts them at risk of slips and falls, according to DOE.
Additional layers of fixative are being applied to areas where contamination has been found, as the weather allows, to keep it from becoming airborne.
Workers are preparing to haul clean dirt to the plant to also cover areas of contamination, including areas around the shift office, a portable trailer office that sees heavy foot traffic at the site.