Radiation contamination involving 42 workers at the Hanford cleanup site near Richland, Washington, about 200 miles southeast of Seattle, has halted demolition of a plutonium processing plant, the Department of Energy has confirmed.
The incident is being viewed as the most troublesome contamination event at the Hanford site, which has a strong, although not perfect, safety record since it was deployed for nuclear arms manufacturing.
The DOE has launched an investigation into the contamination, which included radiation picked up by some of the workers' vehicles, as well as scores of workers, hiring an independent organization to look into the unexplained incidents of contamination that spiked in June and December of 2017.
In a late-March report, Hanford officials confirmed the investigation and the cessation of demolition work at the site while the investigation continues. The report, considered preliminary, casts suspicions on a fixing agent used to keep radioactive particles from becoming airborne that was sprayed before walls of the plutonium finishing plant were torn down. The spray may not have been as effective as was prudent, the report says.
The report also says that there was too much reliance on air monitoring systems that did not work as well as expected.The report indicates that radiation has not been found in the homes of the workers, seven of whom had their homes tested. But raised levels of radiation was found in worker vehicles and in an area about 10 miles from the demolition site. The increased radiation levels were low, AP reported, but the tolerance level for increased radiation exposure at the site is supposed to be zero.
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