Hanford hazardous waste digging begins in March

RICHLAND — Work to start digging up the first part of one of the most hazardous burial grounds at Hanford should begin next month.

Washington Closure Hanford, which is assigned the cleanup of the 618-10 Burial Ground, has awarded subcontracts to three small businesses to provide labor and equipment for the start of the project.

They will be used at the 12 trenches at the burial ground, with work on cleaning up vertical pipe units filled with waste with higher radioactivity to start later.

The 618-10 Burial Ground is expected to be the most hazardous site yet to be encountered by Washington Closure, in part because of the uncertainty of what could be found there. As a result, Washington Closure will be directly managing the cleanup effort using subcontracted labor and equipment.

"This is a different way for us to do business," John Darby, Washington Closure project manager, said in a statement.

Frequent stops and starts are expected as Washington Closure deals with whatever surprises it finds in the burial ground and adjusts its working methods, so it wanted to provide direct oversight and management of the workforce, he said.

The subcontracts, paid for with federal economic stimulus money, total $8 million.

Phoenix Enterprises NW of Richland has been awarded a $6 million subcontract to provide field and office workers for the project.

The other two subcontracts were awarded for lease of heavy equipment for the work.

CWR Enterprises of Rathdrum, Idaho, partnered with Rowand Machinery of Pasco for a nearly $1.4 million subcontract to provide construction heavy equipment. In addition, Acquisition Business Consultants of Richland partnered with Peters & Keatts of Lewiston, Idaho, for a $718,000 subcontract to provide additional construction heavy equipment.

"We know this is going to be a very hazardous and challenging cleanup job," Darby said.

Washington Closure already has dug test pits in the burial trenches on the six-acre site to sample what's there.

They found several 55-gallon drums, which might contain radioactive liquid waste nested inside a pipe that's surrounded by concrete. They also unearthed a deteriorating 30-gallon drum containing depleted uranium chips in oil, which was used to help prevent the possibility that the chips would ignite if exposed to oxygen.

Based on where drums were found, Hanford officials are expected to find more drums -- which could contain uranium shavings, uranium oxide or other radioactive material -- than originally estimated.

Sampling of the trenches plus incomplete historical records indicate the trenches likely also include radiologically contaminated laboratory instruments, bottles, boxes, filters, aluminum cuttings, metallurgical samples, electrical equipment, lighting fixtures and laboratory equipment and hoods.

The 618-10 Burial Ground is about six miles north of Richland near the Hanford highway.

Annette Cary: 582-1533;