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Knolls nuclear cleanup work to resume

Contamination releases in 2010 stalled project

Thursday, April 25, 2013
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— Contractors have been given permission from the U.S. Department of Energy to resume cleanup operations at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory site, more than two years after work stopped because of incidents there.

Cleanup work is set to resume in June, as workers put the finishing touches on enclosures ordered after the accidental release of radioactive dust at the site in September 2010.

Better systems and backups also were put in place after release the following month of 630 gallons of dirty water into the Mohawk River.

In both incidents, officials have said, there was no risk to workers or the public, but the incidents were still of concern to federal energy officials, who halted the project and demanded further safeguards. Now, after further delays caused by tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011, the project appears ready to resume.

“We are committed to get this job done safely and economically,” Steven Feinberg, federal project director at the site, said Thursday. “By adding the tent enclosures, HEPA filters, a ventilation system and barriers between our work and the public, we will make sure that radioactivity doesn’t become airborne again.”

Permission to resume came after the contractor, URS Corp., demonstrated its improvements last fall, showing radiological controls and adherence to work procedures, officials said. The Department of Energy then independently monitored and verified completion of corrective actions and work practice improvements, officials said.

The cleanup at KAPL’s Separations Process Research Unit is aimed at removing the remaining pieces of the long-dormant site, which ran for less than three years and closed in 1953.

In all, two large steel-frame enclosures were built, one over a part of the project called Building G2 and the other over a part called Building H2. The enclosure over G2 was finished last fall, Feinberg said. The one over H2 was finished in February. They’ve been working since putting in finishing touches, adding more barriers.

Among those barriers are inner doors, creating a sort of vestibule, sometimes referred to as an air lock, large enough for trucks to go in. The trucks drive in past the outer door, that closes, then the inner door opens, Feinberg said.

Installation of fire monitoring, detection and alarm systems are nearing completion.

Feinberg said he expects cleanup work to officially resume with the removal of liquid material inside tanks at Building H2. The liquid material will be solidified for disposal at a radioactive waste facility. That work will remove the majority of radioactivity on the site.

There is a long list of projects after that, and completion is not expected until at least late 2014 or early 2015.

Subcontractor CH2M HILL, added after the incidents, and original contractor URS Corp. have been working with the Department of Energy to get the project going again.

The new subcontractor was brought in to take several key positions at the site in the wake of the 2010 incidents.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management is responsible for the cleanup project and currently manages the facilities and land areas, which make up about 15 acres of the entire 170-acre Knolls site.

 
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