Several workers possibly contaminated at Hanford nuclear site

Workers at Hanford began filling a collapsed section of a rail car tunnel near the PUREX Plant on Wednesday morning. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy)

Workers at Hanford began filling a collapsed section of a rail car tunnel near the PUREX Plant on Wednesday morning. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy)

Six Hanford Site workers have shown up as possibly contaminated since Dec. 8. One worker was possibly contaminated twice.

Workers have been steadily working to tear down the Plutonium Finishing Plant — a massive building that used to make so-called plutonium buttons for bombs since 1949 — since 2016. It’s nearly done.

They think it will be slab on grade in January.

The workers wear small lapel meters on their collars. Those gave the signals that there might have been elevated levels of radioactive material around them.

The workers now have to undergo a bioassay. They test each workers’ feces to see if they might have ingested some radioactive material.

Those tests will take about a month to get back.

The president of CH2MHill Plateau Remediation Company, the contractor doing the work for the federal government, said what’s vexing is that the contamination doesn’t appear to have any clear signature or single source.

It will take investigating to find out where this material might be coming from.

“We don’t ever take contamination events lightly,” company president Ty Blackford said. “And if we don’t understand what it is, or where its coming from—the safety of the people first.”

Some of the contamination events happened about 150 yards away from the demo site, while the others happened in a load out area 400-500 yards away.

Of the possible contaminations three samples have decayed away already Blackford said, suggesting radon.

The company said they will only restart work when the possible contamination events have been sorted out.

There have been about six other incidents of radiological contamination alerts at the Plutonium Finishing Plant demo job, but the workers didn’t get any dose, the company said. Contract workers will be off for Christmas starting after work Dec. 22.

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