Schenectady County

Federal cash to speed KAPL cleanup

The federal stimulus package may or may not get the economy moving, but it will at least keep the di

The federal stimulus package may or may not get the economy moving, but it will at least keep the dirt moving.

The ongoing cleanup of contaminated soil at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory is now expected to be completed as much as two years ahead of schedule, with the help of $32 million included in the federal economic plan, Sen. Charles Schumer’s office announced.

Current work will continue as scheduled, site manager John Rampe said. But the new money will move up the second phase, cutting out a planned gap of two years.

Instead of the originally scheduled completion date of 2012 to 2013, the cleanup is now expected to be completed by the end of 2011.

“It’s not so much that we’ll have more trucks on the road, but it allows us to do all the soil cleanup work in one steady project, rather than breaking it up,” Rampe said.

The first phase began on site late last summer with Idaho company Accelerated Remediation managing the cleanup of about 15 acres of radiologically and chemically contaminated soil at the Knolls site.

The radiation does not pose a risk to the general public, according to a U.S. Department of Energy report, and workers are only at risk if they disturb contaminated soil and inhale it or ingest it.

The first phase is expected to continue through July 2010, with breaks for the winter. Worked stopped in November and is expected to resume this month, Rampe said.

The work involves using backhoes to dig up contaminated dirt. That dirt is then put in 18,000-pound bags. Three to four of the bags are then placed on a flatbed truck and shipped by rail for disposal in Utah, officials have said.

Last fall’s operation cleared about 2,300 cubic yards of soil. The total taken during the phase is expected to be about 10,000 cubic yards.

The radiation is left over from a 1950s U.S. Atomic Energy Commission laboratory.

Workers handling the soil wear gloves and plastic booties over their shoes. No respirators or special clothing are required.

The Department of Energy has been working since 2000 to decide what to do with the remnants of the former Separations Process Research Unit at KAPL.

The unit, operational for less than three years, focused on research into recovering uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. The unit closed in 1953. KAPL then shifted from a general-purpose lab to a concentration on nuclear-powered ships.

The larger project will see to the removal of two buildings, a tank farm and tunnels on the site.

The Department of Energy awarded the $69 million contract last December to Washington Group International of Oak Ridge, Tenn. The bid was $100 million less than estimates. The bill for the Accelerated Remediation part is $14 million.

The third portion, the one being moved up, is to remove 6,500 cubic yards of soil in a lower-level parking lot and railroad staging area.

The aim of the stimulus money is to create jobs, officials have said. The current work employs about 25 to 30 people, the demolition about 70, Rampe said.

The part being moved up is to employ 25 to 30 as well, Rampe said.

Schumer called the funding a “win-win” for the county.

“These funds will ensure that the contaminated soil at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory is disposed of properly to keep our residents safe,” Schumer said in a statement, “and at the same time the cleanup will create jobs and provide an economic boost to the area.”

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