Winds blow small amount of radiation onto Washington highway

AP News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2016 3:25 PM

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — The uncontrolled spread of small amounts of radioactive waste at Hanford after a Nov. 17 windstorm is alarming, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a letter to the Department of Energy.

The high winds pushed specks of contamination beyond Route 4, a public highway in Richland to the Wye Barricade entrance to Hanford.

The Tri-City Herald (http://bit.ly/1PSexaJ) reported Monday that tests found no contamination remained near the highway. The Department of Energy concluded that workers and the public are not at risk of exposure.

But the EPA said such a spread of contamination "is a matter that is alarming to EPA and requires further investigation and discussion."

It has given the Energy Department until the third week of April to prepare a report on its loss of control of radioactive material, and say what actions it plans to prevent a recurrence.

Hanford is located north of Richland, Washington, and for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons. The site is now engaged in a massive cleanup of the radioactive waste left over from plutonium production.

The Energy Department and its contractor, Washington Closure Hanford, have had problems with previous contamination spread from the 618-10 Burial Ground as early as summer 2014, according to the weekly staff reports of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

In one of the previous incidents, a windstorm spread small pieces of plastic outside the burial ground's boundary fence. The plastic, used to wrap contaminated equipment, can become brittle and break.

Workers at the burial ground near Route 4 have been digging up contaminated debris and drums of waste from trenches to be treated and taken to a lined landfill in central Hanford for disposal. The waste came from research and uranium fuel fabrication work at Hanford before 1964.

On Nov. 17, winds that hit 70 to 75 mph pushed sandy grains of contamination that had spread toward the road and two grains on the east side of the road. Contamination was cleaned up as it was discovered.

Washington Closure Hanford told the EPA on Nov. 24 that all radiological material had been collected.

But on Dec. 11, the state Department of Health conducted a follow-up survey on behalf of EPA and found four specks of contamination that had spread outside of areas of radiological control. Three were on the west side of the highway and one was on the east side.

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Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com