DOE says radiological release from glovebox minor

Hanford Challenge is concerned that a glovebox shipped from Hanford to nearby Perma-Fix Northwest may have released radiological contamination.

However, the Department of Energy says contamination was contained within the shipping box enclosing the glovebox.

"There was no risk to the public or travelers on the roadway because the contamination was contained in the shipping container," said DOE spokesman Geoff Tyree.

The glovebox was removed from the Plutonium Finishing Plant, where plutonium was processed into metal buttons the size of hockey pucks to be shipped off Hanford for use in the nation's nuclear weapons program during the Cold War.

It was wrapped in plastic, then placed into a shipping container to be sent to Perma-Fix on Battelle Boulevard to be cut into smaller pieces for disposal. A small amount of contamination was found on the plastic, according to Hanford officials.

Perma-Fix notified the Washington State Department of Ecology on Friday, although the company said in its letter to the state that the incident did not rise to the level that required notification. None of its workers was exposed and the contamination did not spread to the environment, it said.

The shipment was made June 19. Further tests were planned Tuesday to confirm what type of radiological contamination was involved, but the tests were postponed due to the weather, said Mike Swartz, CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. deputy vice president at the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

Hanford Challenge has had ongoing concerns about Hanford waste shipments on public roads. In this case, a rolling road closure was made for all lanes in one direction as the container with the glovebox was moved a couple of miles from the Wye Barricade that restricts access to Hanford to Perma-Fix in north Richland. The rolling road closure is intended to help prevent the possibility of a vehicle hitting the truck with the shipment.

Hanford Challenge earlier made an Open Record Act request to the state Department of Ecology related to shipment of chemical and radioactive materials on public roads. Among documents it collected was a presentation that the state declined to comment on, saying it was part of a continuing inspection and it does not discuss inspections until all facts are collected.

Hanford Challenge believes waste is being shipped using regulations that apply only to shipments on site, not on roads that the public uses off site.

The state recommended that the Washington State Patrol inspect Hanford shipments to verify hazardous material identification and packaging and that the state Department of Health should monitor high-radiation dose packages, according to Hanford Challenge.

The state presentation also recommended that the state patrol and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspect carriers transporting hazardous materials between Hanford and Perma-Fix, and that in coordination with the city of Richland, they should investigate rolling road closure activities to make sure they meet transportation laws, according to Hanford Challenge.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews