Safety Alert Halts Nuclear Cleanup

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 @ 03:10 PM gHale

A “severe” violation of safety procedures for handling the removal of nuclear waste halted all work from a clean up project in Parks Township, PA.

The Army Corps of Engineers said excavation work at the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) waste site stopped after the incident on Sept. 30.

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No excavation work has taken place since then, according to corps spokesman Jeff Hawk said.

Col. Butch Graham, commander of the corps’ Pittsburgh District, said public health was not endangered and no workers were hurt.

The corps and its contractor, Cabrera Services of East Hartford, CT, began digging into two of 10 trenches at the 44 acre site in August. NUMEC dumped radioactive and chemical waste produced from the Apollo plant in the 1960s. The dump closed in 1970.

Part of the process calls for workers to scan the soil as they dig one foot at a time, Hawk said. When they find something, they scan it in the ground and again when they take it out of the trench before it goes to a processing building at the site.

While the agency is still investigating what happened on Sept. 30, “It’s pretty apparent the material didn’t go through the scan at the trench site,” Hawk said.

Hawk said Cabrera voluntarily stopped work when officials noticed the problem.

“They did the right thing by suspending excavation when they discovered this deviation from the procedures,” he said. “Now we need to figure out what happened.”

A representative of Cabrera Services could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

It is not clear when excavation work will resume, Hawk said. The corps planned to stop work during the winter.

If Cabrera can’t assure it can do the work properly, Graham said the corps will get a new contractor.

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