Skin of Hanford workers contaminated with radioactive waste

Radioactive contamination was found on the skin of at least seven Hanford tank farm workers Tuesday morning.
Radioactive contamination was found on the skin of at least seven Hanford tank farm workers Tuesday morning. Associated Press

At least seven workers at a Hanford tank farm had skin contaminated with radioactive waste Tuesday morning.

The workers were in a pit at the AX Tank Farm when contamination was detected in the pit.

They backed out of the area, but a survey after they removed their anti-contamination clothing found radioactive contamination on the skin of at least seven workers, according to initial reports. Preliminary results indicated that the level of contamination was low.

Workers were taken to decontamination stations. Three stations were available Tuesday, including two in the 200 East Area where the AX Tank Farm is located.

Radiological surveys showed the workers were clean of contamination before they left the stations, according to a message sent Tuesday afternoon to workers at the Hanford tank farm contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions. As of the end of the work day, none of the workers had been referred for medical treatment.

More tests will be done to check for possible contamination within their bodies, as a precaution. The workers were wearing supplied air respirators, as is currently required in Hanford tank farms.

The waste is left from the past production of plutonium at Hanford for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Workers reinstalled the cover to the pit, and no contamination was found outside the pit, according to the contractor.

Concrete pits typically have valves and equipment for moving waste among tanks. Tuesday morning workers were removing a connection between lines used to transfer waste. The system was not pressurized, according to the contractor.

Infrastructure is being installed in the AX Tank Farm to allow waste to be emptied from four single-shell, underground tanks there and transferred to newer double-shell tanks until the waste can be treated for disposal.

Access to the AX Tank Farm has been restricted until a plan to resume entry into the farm is developed.

A critique will be done to determine what happened and the source of contamination, according to Washington River Protection Solutions.

Rob Cantwell, manager of environment, safety, health and quality for the contractor, praised workers for responding quickly and professionally to minimize the contamination spread and to take care of fellow workers.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews