Hotter than Hot Cells at Oak Ridge

Thursday, October 27, 2011 @ 06:10 PM gHale

Old radioactive facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) known to be pretty hot have proved hotter than expected, and that has caused delays in the clean up, which means higher costs as well.

The contract workers encountered higher levels of radiological contamination than original expected in project planning, said Dept. of Energy spokesman Mike Koentop. Safety and Ecology Corp. (SEC) is doing the work under a prime contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.

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“This will almost certainly adversely impact the project’s cost and schedule,” Koentop said.

“We are currently in the process of modifying the contract to allow the contractor to do additional engineering and planning to determine the extent of the impacts on project’s cost and schedule,” he said. “At this time, it is premature to speculate what the ultimate impact will be to the cost and schedule for the project.”

The work is “moving along” despite the disruptions, said Dirk Van Hoesen, environmental manager at ORNL.

Asked about the peak dose rates discovered in the old hot cells, he said, “‘Oh, I don’t know, something in the 5r to 10r per hour rate.”

Regarding the evolving situation, he said, “It’s like anything. Until you get in and look around in great detail, it’s hard to know what all the specific conditions are.”

He said there probably hadn’t been any rad readings in the buildings since around 2005-2006 to indicate what the situation was like in there.

DOE’s Koentop said the C/D hot cell area was initially a “radiological facility,” but the latest date showed the internal dose levels in one cell is closer to a Category 3 nuclear facility.

“This anticipated change in facility conditions has caused the contractor to re-evaluate the technical approach and the method by which they will address the cleanup of the facility,” the DOE spokesman said. “Only limited work can continue on the D-side until the technical approach is approved and that is impacting the schedule.”

Koentop said much of the prep work had already wrapped up for some of the hot cells work on the “C” area.

The DOE spokesman said the federal agency expected to have “an approved technical approach, updated schedule and cost estimates from the contractor, and an independent government estimate by the end of the calendar year.”

Van Hoesen said if the characterization results prove that it’s a Cat-3 nuclear facility, that will definitely “increase the effort required from a safety document perspective and that’ll certainly have some influence on the cost.”

Christopher Leichtweis, SEC chief executive, whose company has got $80 million in Recovery Act cleanup projects in Oak Ridge, said he thought the hot cells project at ORNL was “going well, not great.”

“(Building) 3026 has some cost growth due to inventory . . . that none of us really knew was there until recently. So, we’re characterizing it to further understand the conditions,” he said.

The radiation levels are “about a magnitude higher” than previously thought, he said. The source could be fragment of nuclear fuel or irradiated metal, he said.

As for the source, Leichtweis said measurements indicate the rad is coming from 83 percent strontium, 13 percent cesium and then “additional miscellaneous fission product material.”

Work has now slowed. “Well, when you get a chance of condition, the safety basis then starts to slow down,” he said. “Because it requires more paper, more readiness, to get the project back on track. So you have to kind of go into a holding pattern, rewrite your documents, make them a little more robust, do more training and then you execute.”

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