August 26, 1997 in City

Care Not Prompt After Blast, Report Confirms Probe Also Says Off-Site Officials Did Not Learn Of Hanford Emergency In Timely Manner

Associated Press
 

The government’s final report on an explosion at a plutonium plant was issued Monday and concluded that workers did not receive prompt medical care.

The report on the blast at the Plutonium Reclamation Facility also said that off-site emergency management officials did not learn of the emergency in a timely manner.

“This final report confirms our initial findings,” said Paul Kruger, an official with the U.S. Department of Energy’s office in Richland.

The Energy Department has revised its emergency notification procedures and is revising the way it handles chemical hazards affecting workers, the agency said in a news release.

Contractors across the 560-square-mile nuclear weapons site have also completed reviews of chemical wastes and are preparing a comprehensive plan to manage the chemicals, the DOE said.

Investigators said hydroxylamine nitrate and nitric acid stored in a 400-gallon tank at the Hanford facility since 1993 slowly evaporated over the years. The mixture condensed until it exploded like an overinflated tire on May 14.

The blast punched two 6-inch holes in the roof of the huge building and broke a water line. The Energy Department has said water swept traces of deadly plutonium outside, but insists there was no significant release of radioactivity.

Ten workers were near the blast. Some workers now say they have developed skin rashes and other problems they blame on chemical exposure.

Hanford managers last month apologized to their employees for the handling of the chemical explosion.

Energy Secretary Federico Pena also ordered Hanford and all other Energy Department sites to scrutinize their storage of dangerous chemicals and develop a process for disposal.

He also called for the agency and its contractors to assess the technical competence of their staffs to recognize potential hazards.

Local and state authorities, supposed to be called within minutes of such an explosion, were not told for three hours. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not receive notification until six hours after the explosion, spokesman Mike Howard said.

A 24-hour Occurrence Notification Center will be in place by Oct. 1, Hanford officials said.

Hanford produced weapons-grade plutonium, beginning with the Manhattan Project of World War II and continuing until the late 1980s. The reservation in southeast Washington is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site and contains more than half the nation’s nuclear weapons’ wastes.

The government has pledged billions of dollars to clean up the mess, a task expected to take decades.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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