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More radioactive contamination triggers management change at Hanford

In this May 9, 2017  photo, a sign welcomes drivers to Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Wash. (Manuel Valdes / Associated Press)
In this May 9, 2017 photo, a sign welcomes drivers to Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Wash. (Manuel Valdes / Associated Press)
By Annette Cary Tri-City Herald

The Department of Energy is replacing the managers of a critical radioactive clean-up project after the continued spread of contamination on the Hanford site.

The move is intended to rebuild confidence with workers and the public and show the project is being safely managed.

The announcement Monday comes after radioactive contamination was again found on a worker’s personnel vehicle. DOE wants other employee cars retested, including a rental car its contractor had to track down.

Jacobs Engineering Group, which recently acquired CH2M, has been put in charge of the Plutonium Finishing Plant after a spread of radioactive particles, Doug Shoop, manager of the Department of Energy Richland Operations Office told employees in a message late Monday.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., owned by Jacobs, has been in charge of the project, including recovery efforts after a spread of radioactive particles associated with open-air demolition of the plant.

The focus of work at the plant is making sure that radioactive particles are contained and there is no additional spread of contamination. Demolition work and work with piles of demolition rubble have been halted.

“DOE expects that the new corporate leadership will work diligently to rebuild DOE’s, workers’ and stakeholders; confidence in their ability to manage the situation and protect employees and the public,” Shoop said in the employee message.

Jacobs has appointed John Fulton to manage the plant recover project. He was at Hanford and began leading recovery operations on Monday, Shoop said.

Fulton, a native of the Tri-City area, retired as president of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. in September 2014. He had worked at Hanford off and on since 1979, including leading CH2M’s central plateau work since 2012.

Ty Blackford, the president of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., will continue to manage the contractor’s other work, Shoop said.

Concerns were raised when a spread of radioactive contamination was discovered in mid-December after most of the demolition was completed on the most contaminated area of the plant, the Plutonium Reclamation Facility.

Since then radioactive contamination has been discovered outside the Plutonium Finishing Plant complex, including in air samples collected from late October through at least December and later analyzed.

Twice in 2017, the Washington state Department of Health found very low quantities of radioactive particles that appeared to be from demolition of the plant in air samples collected miles away, but not in areas accessible to the public.

On Friday, radioactive contamination again was discovered on an employee’s vehicle, Shoop said.

In December, surveys of seven employee cars or pickups that had been parked at the plant were positive for radiation. Officials later determined that four of the vehicles had been contaminated by the spread of radioactive particles from demolition and the other three had radiation readings likely because of naturally occurring radon.

The seven vehicles were decontaminated, but one of the vehicle owners declined to retrieve his car or pickup from the plant’s parking lot, according to DOE.

In the intervening weeks the car had been moved several times to accommodate work to at the plant, which has focused on recovering from the contamination spread.

When the car was resurveyed on Friday, a “speck” of radioactive contamination was again found, Shoop said. Additional contamination was discovered Sunday.

The discovery initiated additional actions by CH2M “to confirm information DOE thought we already had,” Shoop said. “This is not acceptable.”

CH2M contacted owners of the other six employee vehicles initially thought to have contamination. Two of the six employees requested another survey, with none found.

The other four employees declined to have their vehicles surveyed, but they will be contacted again, Shoop said

One of the employees had been driving a rental vehicle, which was among those believed to have been contaminated with radon. CH2M tracked down the vehicle and it will be surveyed again under DOE oversight, Shoop said.

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