A building in the city of Richland with some radioactive contamination started to come down this week.
The Research Technology Laboratory is on the south end of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory campus in Richland near apartments and offices.
The land was once part of the Hanford nuclear reservation.
The Department of Energy will pay $11.4 million to Hanford contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. for the work, which has included taking down nine smaller outbuildings.
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CH2M’s contract covers work from planning through demolition, and then remediation, of the land.
The contractor has been in the news in recent months after radioactive contamination spread at Hanford during demolition of the highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant in central Hanford.
PNNL says there is little correlation between the projects in terms of radiation risk.
We do it safely or we don’t do it at all.
Ruben Trevino, Research Technology Director demolition director for CH2M
The residual contamination of the lab at 524 Third Street in Richland is miniscule compared to the contamination at the Hanford plant, said PNNL spokesman Greg Koller.
The Hanford plant was the largest, most complex plutonium facility in the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons complex.
Officials knew that it would be a high hazard demolition project.
In contrast, the Research Technology Laboratory has some small spots of radioactive contamination on the concrete floors of five of its labs, said Ruben Trevino, demolition director for the Richland project.
While the Plutonium Finishing plant was heavily contaminated with plutonium oxide, the lab contamination is mostly uranium measured in picocuries.
A picocurie is one trillionth of a curie.
“We do it safely or we don’t do it at all,” Trevino said about the Richland demolition project.
Demolition of the small outbuildings was done after removal of hazards, such as asbestos, and a check for radiological material, which found nothing.
Work started this week to tear down the main building, a 55,931-square-foot structure that includes a 7,000-square-foot basement. It is constructed mostly of reinforced concrete.
Initial demolition is on the office area of the main building.
Demolition on the laboratory areas of the building will not be done until late February.
First, radioactive contamination must be removed from lab floors. The contamination now is contained by fixative spread on it.
CH2M will use a scabbler, a tool with diamond teeth that can remove a thin layer of concrete from the floor.
It includes a vacuum in an enclosed system to transfer the concrete particles to a 55-gallon drum without particles becoming airborne in the laboratory room.
As a precaution for malfunctions, such as a broken hose, the lab rooms will be enclosed and an exhauster will be used to create negative air pressure.
Once workers are ready to scrape up the contaminated concrete, the work could be done in as little as a day, Trevino said.
Fixative has been applied to the building’s ventilation system as a precaution, and filters have been removed for disposal.
Earlier, equipment was removed from the building and a subcontractor removed friable asbestos, the type of asbestos that can easily be crumbled into a powder.
There is some limited nonfriable asbestos left, such as in some gaskets.
Demolition will be done using two excavators that can be equipped with shears, a bucket and thumb, and a hammer that will be needed to break up the building’s heaviest concrete.
Both PNNL and CHPRC (CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.) are taking great care to follow existing regulations and permits, which are extensive and exist to protect the public.
Greg Koller, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory spokesman
It is officially limited to times when the wind is blowing at no more than 15 mph, but is not expected to be done when winds are even lighter because of issues with controlling the plastic liners that hold debris in load-out containers.
A mixture of water and surfactant, a wetting agent, will be sprayed on the building during demolition to further contain any asbestos. Each night, exposed dirt at the site will be covered with a soil cement, Trevino said.
“We are in thorough communication with all the surrounding parties so they know what is going on,” he said.
The Research Technology Laboratory is not far from The Lofts apartments and is a couple of blocks from Washington State University Tri-Cities.
“Both PNNL and CHPRC (CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.) are taking great care to follow existing regulations and permits, which are extensive and exist to protect the public,” Koller said. “PNNL is monitoring activity at the site daily.”
The Research Technology Laboratory was built in 1966 by Douglas Laboratories an acquired by Exxon Nuclear Co. in 1975. Battelle purchased it in 1981.
Demolition should be completed in the spring. Building debris will be hauled to the lined landfill in central Hanford, the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility.
The building was constructed in 1966 by Douglas Laboratories to support Hanford projects in what was the 1100 Area of Hanford and now is part of the PNNL campus.
Battelle, which has held a contract to operate the DOE lab in Richland since 1965, purchased the building in 1981 from Exxon Nuclear Co.
Exxon Nuclear had owned the building since 1975.
The building served PNNL well for decades “but now it is antiquated and does not meet the needs of a modern science research organization,” Koller said.
Remodeling the building would have cost more than decommissioning and demolishing it, and moving staff and research into newer facilities, he said. The last of the staff was moved out of the building to newer facilities in early 2017.
The demolition is part of a master plan for the campus to replace older, outmoded buildings and move into new buildings in the core of the PNNL campus and the area north of Horn Rapids Road, Koller said.