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More Hanford workers may have inhaled radioactive particles via Tri-City Herald

By Annette Cary

A major demolition project at Hanford was halted two days this week after air monitors worn by several workers showed they might have inhaled radioactive particles.


“We take this very, very seriously,” said Ty Blackford, president of Department of Energy contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. “We are dealing with a form of contamination that is very, very hard to manage.”

DOE officials have called the work at the the Plutonium Finishing Plant at Hanford the most hazardous demolition project at the nuclear reservation and among the most dangerous across DOE’s environmental cleanup complex.

The plant, particularly its Plutonium Reclamation Facility, is contaminated with plutonium. The radioactive particles are flighty, becoming airborne easily.

Seven lapel monitors worn by six workers at the Plutonium Finishing Plant complex since last Friday tested positive for radioactive particles at levels of concern, according to laboratory results.


The workers had been mixing water and fixative sprayed on demolition areas to help prevent airborne contamination and were well away from where demolition is being done on two areas of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.


The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council also issued a stop work order for its employees about noon Wednesday. HAMTC is an umbrella group for about 15 Hanford unions.

In June, about 350 people at the Plutonium Finishing Plant were ordered to take cover indoors as a precaution after a monitor detected low levels of airborne radioactive particles and sounded an alarm.


But in the recent incidents, no continuous air monitor alarmed, Blackford said.

The site has stationary air samplers, none of which tested positive for airborne radioactive particles.

CH2M also uses “cookie sheets,” or steel plates, that are checked for radioactive particles. No particles were found on them.

In addition, routine surveys found no contamination on workers’ skin or protective clothing.

The surveys are of all workers leaving areas where radioactive contamination might be expected.


CH2M also expects to have the rest of the Plutonium Finishing Plant torn down to a slab on the ground, work that could be completed in a matter of weeks, Blackford said.

Demolition of the plant began in November 2016.

The Plutonium Finishing Plant operated during the Cold War as the last stop for plutonium produced at Hanford before it was sent off site to a nuclear weapons manufacturing plant.

About two-thirds of the nation’s weapons program plutonium came out of the Hanford plant.



Read more.

◇More Hanford Workers Possibly Contaminated with Plutonium via King 5

Internal Hanford documents about the events obtained by the KING 5 Investigators show that contamination was found outside the project’s containment zone on Wednesday. Alpha radioactivity (the most dangerous kind to be ingested or inhaled by humans) was found on items including a wooden valve box, a concrete slab, a concrete pillar, a man lift basket, piping, an electrical box, and a portable toilet.

This is the latest health scare for workers involved in the demolition. On June 8, hundreds of employees had to take cover after airborne radioactive contamination was detected. Originally Hanford officials called the event “precautionary” and that it appeared workers “were not at risk.” That turned out to be untrue. The June 8 spread of radioactive particles led to approximately 31 Hanford workers ingesting or inhaling radioactive particles.

“I think it’s bull sh**,” said a demolition worker at the time. “No one informed us that this was (a serious event). They hid that from us.”

Internal contamination of this type is considered particularly dangerous because it can take years for alpha radiation to decay inside the body.

“Plutonium will go to the bones and sit there for a long, long time,” said Dr. Eric Liebelt, the medical and executive director of the Washington Poison Center. “Your risks are lung cancer, liver cancer and bone cancer.”


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