Water was found seeping from a pool at a former reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory one year ago, and in August, workers removed four irradiated components from the pool that produced about 96 percent of the radiation, federal officials said Thursday.
The four irradiated components weigh about 200 pounds each, said the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management, or EM.
Water was found seeping from the reactor pool at the Oak Ridge Research Reactor during a routine inspection in September 2014. The facility, also known as Building 3042, is one of hundreds of Manhattan Project and Cold War-ear structures across the Oak Ridge Reservation monitored by the Oak Ridge Office of EM.
Nuclear research had not been conducted at the facility since 1988, but it still contained the highly irradiated components from those operations. The leak was causing the pool to lose the water that served as a protective, shielding agent for the irradiated components, officials said.
They said the 125,000-gallon reactor pool remained under constant surveillance until workers could determine the extent of the situation and if conditions were stable. EM and federal cleanup contractor UCOR worked together to plan and conduct an $8 million project to address the issue and remove the most highly irradiated components from the reactor.
Removal of the four irradiated components last month was considered significant progress.
“The items were moved by long-handled tools into a container that was placed in the pool,” officials said. “Then, the container was retrieved and moved by a crane into an 80,000-pound, heavily-shielded shipping cask.”
UCOR subcontracted AREVA to load and transport the cask to the Waste Control Specialists facility in Texas for disposition.
“Overseeing aging, contaminated infrastructure often presents unexpected discoveries and challenges, but the response has been one of the highlights of our work this year,” said Sue Cange, manager of the Oak Ridge Office of EM. “I am very pleased with all of the people who contributed to this success—from the facility reps who diligently oversaw the facility and made the discovery to UCOR making adjustments to fund and accelerate cleanup of this facility in a safe and timely manner.”
The next step of the project involves placing a concrete cap over the pool that will act as a shield for the remaining items. Workers will then pump all of the water out of the pool and process it at an Oak Ridge National Laboratory water treatment facility. The project is expected to be complete in early 2016.
EM said surveillance and maintenance—a process used to monitor and maintain safe conditions in facilities awaiting demolition—is not a subject that often grabs headlines, but it’s an important part of EM’s portfolio.
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