The Department of Energy's Volpentest HAMMER Training Center received a big gift during the celebration of its 15th anniversary -- a new building from the U.S. State Department.
Just minutes after the dedication ceremony ended for the Field Exercise Building, its inaugural class was under way with visitors from the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine learning to intercept radioactive contraband at border crossings.
A semi-truck rolled through the high bay doors of the 17,000-square-foot building, leaving behind a shipping container. The students searched it for radioactive material using the Russian-made detectors they will use at their country's borders.
In the past 15 years, HAMMER has provided 600,000 student days of training on its Hanford campus, just north of Richland.
Much of the training has been for Hanford workers, who have practiced to respond to any abnormal conditions they may encounter at the nuclear reservation, said Matt McCormick, manager of the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office.
Money for the training center came after Tom Grumbly, now Lockheed Martin vice president, was faced with two serious incidents as he took over as DOE assistant secretary for environmental management in 1993.
First, a worker died after he was severely burned by steam escaping from a valve in Hanford's 300 Area. Two months later, a worker was seriously contaminated with radioactive waste when he dropped a rock on a rope into an underground waste tank, Grumbly said.
Not long after that, $30 million was approved for a new training center at Hanford, where workers would train other workers.
"It has proved its value over the last 15 years," Grumbly said.
HAMMER calls its training "as real as it gets," with workers practicing with life-size props -- such as overturned railroad cars -- to fight threats ranging from fires to terrorists.
The latest facility to be added to its campus is the third provided by the State Department for training personnel to detect and interdict weapons of mass destruction.
First, the State Department added a mockup of a port, then it added a $2.5 million building for classroom use in 2009. On Thursday, DOE and the State Department signed a memorandum of understanding for use of the $2.9 million Field Exercise Building for counterterrorism efforts.
Fowler General Construction of Richland built the latest facility.
The new building will support the international border security and law enforcement training conducted by DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the Department of State, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. It also will support Hanford training.
So far, HAMMER has provided international border security and law enforcement training to more than 2,000 visitors from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and 67 countries.
The new building is proof that federal agencies can work together to improve security in the United States and overseas, said Paul van Son, senior adviser for the Department of States' Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund.
The new building will provide all-weather training to help stop radioactive contraband before it leaves any country, rather than waiting to catch the material at ports in Seattle or New York, van Son said.
Checks at U.S. ports should be the last step, not the first, he said.
There is no telling "how many lives will be saved by what takes place in this building," said Walter Wise, general president of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.
HAMMER has the support of 10 international unions because it reaches across the world to protect workers, the environment and the public, Wise said.
The next step for HAMMER will expanding beyond government partnerships into industry partnerships, helping to better protect workers from industrial hazards, Grumbly said.
Also Thursday, HAMMER received the DOE Voluntary Protection Program Superior Star Award as a result of the training centers' continued and exemplary safety excellence.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com