Contamination from Hanford shipment worse than first thought

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by SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @SFrameK5

KING5.com

Posted on June 28, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 8 at 4:02 PM

Radioactive contamination detected June 19 at a private company in Richland was more serious than officials initially described, according to a document obtained by KING 5 News.

The incident involved a large glove box that had been used at the Hanford Site by workers involved in plutonium processing. Two boxes were hauled to the Richland facility of PermaFix Northwest on the 19th to be processed for permanent disposal. After the boxes were unloaded, radiation was detected, prompting PermaFix to notify state regulators.

PermaFix said the public and workers were never exposed and there was no environmental damage. The company said no contamination escaped the truck bay where the boxes were unloaded.

But a report written on June 21 by Washington State Department of Health inspector Kristen Schwab suggests the spread of contaminated material was more serious.

Schwab said contamination was detected in multiple places, including the rigging system used to unload the boxes and a forklift used to move the boxes. The report also said employees were not wearing personal protective equipment while unloading the boxes.

Schwab's report said state inspectors have "concerns with the practice of opening shipping containers outside and moving equipment with high levels of internal alpha contamination without the use of secondary containment." The report recommends that similar shipments to PermaFix be halted until the June 19 incident is investigated and new safety measures put in place.

It's unclear how the contamination escaped the glove box, which was wrapped in plastic by workers at the Hanford Site before being placed inside a larger containment vessel. PermaFix and the state of Washington said they are taking steps to ensure a similar incident doesn't happen again.

The watchdog group Hanford Challenge said the June 19 incident raises questions about how shipments of radioactive materials are managed.

"There was contamination found outdoors. This highlights the lack of transparency and it shows we need more rigorous oversight," said Meredith Crafton, the group's policy and advocacy coordinator.

Last month, KING 5 reported that the Department of Energy and its contractors were using parade permits to get permission to transport radioactive debris through the streets of Richland. Such permits require far less stringent safety measures.

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Watch KING 5's series: Hanford's Dirty Secrets

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