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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Hanford workers begin K East Basin demolition

Associated Press

YAKIMA – Workers at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site have begun demolishing the building that surrounds a leaky pool built in the 1950s to hold spent fuel from nuclear reactors.

Emptying and tearing down the K East Basin has been one of the cleanup priorities at Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Radioactive sludge from the corroded fuel rods was removed last year, and the focus has shifted to removing the building and basin itself.

“Tearing down this nuclear facility is a key step in our cleanup progress along the Columbia River,” Dave Brockman, manager of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Richland Operations Office, said in a statement Thursday. “Removing the basin is critical to getting to the contaminated soil underneath the basin as soon as possible.”

Workers built the K East and K West basins in the 1950s to hold spent fuel from the reactors. Attached to different reactors, the 125-foot-long, 20-foot-deep pools can hold an estimated 1.3 million gallons of water.

In 2004, workers completed the removal of 2,100 tons of spent nuclear fuel left in both basins after weapons production stopped – one of three Hanford cleanup tasks identified as urgent to protect public safety and the environment. Both basins sit just 400 yards from the river, and the K East Basin previously leaked millions of gallons of contaminated water into the soil.

Workers in protective clothing and respirators have been using an excavator and shear to tear down the K East Basin’s ceiling and walls. Demolition of the structure is expected to be completed by the end of September, when workers will turn their efforts to the concrete basin itself and digging to remove five feet of soil beneath it.

That work is expected to be completed by the end of July 2009.