KAPL site cleanup will be enclosed to end releases

The Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory cleanup site that saw radioactive dust released in September will

The Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory cleanup site that saw radioactive dust released in September will be enclosed before any cleanup work resumes, a site official said Thursday.

Also, acting site manager Guy Girard confirmed a fourth incident: Shipment of radioactive material that wasn’t properly described on a manifest.

Girard said the trucking incident, like three others in recent months, posed no danger to the public. Still, it’s another problem with the cleanup, he said. Work at the site has been placed on hold since Nov. 19.

The cleanup at the KAPL site is to remove the remnants of the former Separations Process Research Unit at KAPL, a unit that ran for less than three years and closed in 1953.

Now, 57 years after it closed it is being cleaned up, but there have been accidental releases of radiation. The enclosure is designed to contain any further release of radiation, Girard said. He described the enclosure as polyethylene supported by a steel frame, one that will last through completion of the work. But exactly when that will be remained unclear, including when work would resume.

Federal Department of Energy officials are awaiting a report from the company doing the cleanup, Washington Group International, on how they will complete the work in the most efficient and safest manner, Girard said.

Regarding the waste shipment, the waste was sent to a facility in Clive, Utah. It went out Nov. 12 and arrived Nov. 16. The shipment contained 13 items. Nine of them were essentially filters used to treat radioactive water at the Knolls site. The other four consisted of 55-gallon drums. It was one of those drums, when tested on Nov. 17 at the Utah facility, that had elevated radioactive readings that didn’t match the manifest.

Washington Group dispatched a machine to help the Utah facility identify the substance. It was encased in concrete inside the drum. Clive officials are determining whether it can stay there or must be taken to a different site.

In shipping the material, the company uses a system to sample the containers to a high enough degree of certainty before they’re sent. Asked if the four drums in the shipment should have been sampled, Girard said they should have been. But asked about the danger to the public, Girard said the shipment conformed to DOT standards. Drivers were not in danger, he said.

The September incident that released radiation dust involved the demolition of a building known as H2, specifically the demolition of a tower and tanks by Washington Group. In that incident, elevated background radiation readings were found and contamination was located on the boots of four equipment operators.

Contamination was later found by KAPL on several areas around the grounds, including on some roofs, over an area of approximately 104,000 square feet, or just less than 2.4 acres, according to the report.

There were also two contamination-related incidents involving water on site. On Oct. 1, heavy rains caused untreated water to overflow. Water was also found leaking from a berm. No elevated levels were found outside the soil contamination area.

Then, on Oct. 25, a drain pump failed, sending approximately 630 gallons of dirty water to the Mohawk River. The discharge was easily diluted in the river, posing no risk to the public, state officials said. Tests in Latham showed no elevated levels after the release, officials there have said.

While the work is on pause, Girard said the water treatment activities are continuing, with water taken off site for treatment. The site is being prepared for winter. Structures that might collapse under the weight of snow have been upgraded, he said.

A Department of Energy report out last week found that perceived schedule pressures and reluctance by some workers to bring up issues that might slow progress helped lead to the accidental release of radioactive dust.

The radioactive dust, federal officials said, was well below the levels that would pose a danger to the health of workers on site, much less anyone nearby. But the release still concerned Department of Energy investigators.

Categories: Schenectady County

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