Demolition under way at a historic, hazardous plutonium plant
Work has started to tear down the historic McCluskey Room, the site of one of Hanford’s worst radiological accidents.
In 1976, a chemical explosion in the room shattered the thick glass windows of a glove box. Radioactive concentrated nitric acid and shards of glass and metal sprayed into the neck and face of worker Harold McCluskey.
He received 500 times the amount of radiation doctors considered safe in a lifetime and his body set off Geiger counters 50 feet away, according to Department of Energy and Herald accounts of the accident.
He came to be known as the Atomic Man.
The McCluskey Building is the second of four major buildings of the highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant where demolition has started using heavy equipment.
Starting demolition of the Americium Recovery Facility brings another chapter of Hanford history to an end.
Tom Teynor, DOE project director
Two decades of preparations had been needed to prepare the central Hanford plant for demolition, starting with stabilizing plutonium left there in a liquid solution at the end of the Cold War.
The plant processed almost two-thirds of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during the Cold War. At one end of the Americium Recovery Facility, an annex called the McCluskey Room by workers was built to recover radioactive americium from waste for possible industrial use.
Then another annex was added, the six-story Plutonium Reclamation Facility.
That left the small McCluskey Room — about the size of a two-car garage — sandwiched between the 200,000-square-foot main processing area of the plant and the 22,000-square-foot Plutonium Reclamation Facility.
“Starting demolition of the Americium Recovery Facility brings another chapter of Hanford history to an end and represents a significant hazard reduction on the site,” said Tom Teynor, Department of Energy project director.
The Plutonium Reclamation Facility is about one-third demolished. It and the McCluskey Room are expected to be down to slab on grade by March 2017. Then work will start to tear down the main Plutonium Finishing Processing Facility and finally its ventilation building and stack.
Demolition of the entire complex is scheduled to be completed by September 2017.
Harold McCluskey survived to die of a heart condition 11 years after the accident, but never recovered the stamina for the hunting and fishing he enjoyed.
“We are making steady progress, and we will continue to do so safely,” said Tom Bratvold, project vice president for DOE contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.
After the accident, McCluskey, then 64, spent much of the next five months in a windowless decontamination center in Richland and then a travel-trailer parked just outside as his health improved and radiation levels decreased.
He survived, but his face was pocked with acid scars and his eyes were permanently damaged. He never recovered the stamina for the hunting and fishing he enjoyed.
He died 11 years after the accident of a heart condition that had plagued him before the accident.
Operations within the Americium Recovery Facility did not resume after the accident. At one point, the doors to the McCluskey Room were welded shut.
CH2M crews began demolition preparations in the room in 2014, according to DOE. By early 2016, the remaining contaminated pieces of processing equipment were removed from the room. Chemical tanks were prepared from removal from the building during demolition.