Specially trained workers have been scouring 115 acres near Gable Mountain in the summer heat for bullets, rifle grenades and other debris left from an early Hanford firing range.
The Hanford Patrol used the north side of the mountain from World War II through the early 1950s, firing into its slope for target practice and other weapons training.
That left the area littered with bullets, casings, flares and the occasional smoke or tear gas grenade, some of them unexploded.
"It's not a radioactive site, but it is unique," said Cathy Louie, the Department of Energy deputy project director for Hanford work near the Columbia River. "It's a significant footprint and a specialty sort of cleanup."
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Work began in 2008 to clean up the 55 acres used for a pistol range, a rifle range, a machine gun range and a range for firing rifle grenades.
The work under way now is to clean up the doughnut-shaped parcel of land around the firing range where bullets and grenades landed amid the sage.
It's reached by going down a little-used, 1.5-mile dirt road. Gable Mountain is considered a sacred tribal site and access to it by Hanford workers is restricted.
Signs have been posted that warn "Danger -- Unexploded Ordnance -- Keep Out."
Washington Closure Hanford has subcontracted with Terranear to bring in a crew of former bomb and unexploded ordnance technicians to search each square inch of the land around the former shooting ranges.
It's been hot work this summer, made more hazardous by rattlesnakes, scorpions and spiders. But the workers, some of whom have been in Afghanistan, are used to challenging conditions.
They have a different look than most Hanford workers. They wear sun hats and snake gaiters instead of the hard hats and neon-orange safety vests required almost everywhere else at the nuclear reservation.
Hard hats could fall off and hit an unexploded piece of ordnance as workers bend their heads to search the ground, said Traci Snyder, Washington Closure project safety representative. And the orange safety vests tend to attract bees.
Two teams of seven technicians each comb grids of 100 feet by 100 feet, starting by marking out 5-foot-wide lanes to make sure no ground is missed. On flat areas that are clear of brush, they can use a commercial-grade metal detector on wheels to search for ordnance.
But much of the area is searched with hand-held devices because of the sage and sloping hillside of Gable Mountain.
The grids have been seeded with short pieces of piping as a quality control measure to make sure teams stay focused on the sometimes monotonous work. If a team finishes the grid without finding all the pipes, the grid has to be surveyed again.
"To date they have not missed one," said Nathan Metzler, a URS Corp. employee and the project lead for Washington Closure. "They are very good."
Work started April 7 and is about 80 percent complete, he said.
So far workers have found about 30,000 bullets, one partial smoke grenade and four tear gas grenades that would have been fired out of a launcher. The grenades, about 9 inches long, are shaped like bombs with fins.
When a metal detector gets a reading, workers use a shovel to investigate, often finding fencing, nails and fence staples. They also have found old barrels used for target practice until they were reduced to Swiss cheese, Metzler said.
Earlier, when the center of the area was cleared, workers discovered flares and the links that hold strings of rounds together for machine guns.
The grenades have been found above ground. They are surrounded with a barricade, and when work is completed an Army explosive ordnance disposal team from Yakima Training Center will be called in to blow them up.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews