Workers prepare to tackle Hanford’s potentially deadly spill via Tri-City Herald

The initial work has begun to clean up a spill of Hanford waste so radioactive that it would be lethal within two minutes of contact.

Workers have entered the airlock of the nuclear reservation’s 324 Building for the first time in 15 years. 

Beneath the Cold War-era building lies the spill of cesium and strontium, a nasty surprise found by workers in 2010.

The building, which is about 1,000 feet from the Columbia River, has been left standing to provide shielding from the radiation beneath it until contamination can be removed using remotely operated equipment.

Entering and cleaning out the airlock is an early step toward installing the equipment to clean up the spill and then tear down the building.


The 324 Building, built in the mid-1960s and operated until 1996, housed thick-walled rooms called “hot cells” where workers used remotely operated equipment to perform work with highly radioactive materials.

As workers were decontaminating the building for demolition in 2010, they discovered the cesium and strontium that had leaked from the B Cell into the soil.

A spill during work in the 1980s for Germany is suspected of making its way through the cracked lining of a sump at the bottom of the cell. Workers were fabricating concentrated cesium and strontium into a heat source for Germany to test a repository for radioactive waste, which emits heat.

By stopping the planned demolition when the spill was discovered and leaving the building standing, the structure not only provides a barrier against the radiation, it acts as an umbrella. Precipitation could carry contamination deeper in the soil toward the groundwater.

The 324 Building is one of only a few buildings still standing in the 300 Area, as more than 170 buildings in the Hanford complex just north of Richland have been demolished as part of environmental cleanup over the last decade.


At Hanford’s Maintenance and Storage Facility, a 28,000-square-foot building no longer needed to serve the deactivated Fast Flux Test Facility, some of the testing for the 324 Building project is being done.

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