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Workers Prepare to Safely Enter One of Hanford Site’s Most Hazardous Rooms

July 29, 2014 - 12:00pm

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Trainers help a Plutonium Finishing Plant employee dress in the protective suit.

Trainers help a Plutonium Finishing Plant employee dress in the protective suit.

Nuclear chemical operator Harold McCluskey in this undated photo.

Nuclear chemical operator Harold McCluskey in this undated photo.

The force of the 1976 explosion blew windows and gloves from the glove box, leaving the facility heavily contaminated to this day.

The force of the 1976 explosion blew windows and gloves from the glove box, leaving the facility heavily contaminated to this day.

Trainers adjust a Plutonium Finishing Plant employee’s harness that carries the respirator, cooling system, and other equipment safely inside the protective suit.

Trainers adjust a Plutonium Finishing Plant employee’s harness that carries the respirator, cooling system, and other equipment safely inside the protective suit.

Trainers help a Plutonium Finishing Plant employee dress in the protective suit.
Nuclear chemical operator Harold McCluskey in this undated photo.
The force of the 1976 explosion blew windows and gloves from the glove box, leaving the facility heavily contaminated to this day.
Trainers adjust a Plutonium Finishing Plant employee’s harness that carries the respirator, cooling system, and other equipment safely inside the protective suit.

RICHLAND, Wash. – When workers enter the hazardous, historic McCluskey Room at the Hanford site this summer, they will be safer due to their preparation and involvement in planning and training for the job.

   The McCluskey Room is part of the site’s Plutonium Finishing Plant and was used to recover americium during the Cold War. The room is named after Harold McCluskey, who was injured in 1976 when a vessel inside a glove box burst and exposed him to radioactive material. McCluskey was 64 at the time and lived for 11 more years until he died from causes not related to the accident.

   Since 2008, EM’s Richland Operations Office and contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company (CH2M HILL) have worked to prepare the plant for demolition by removing much of the equipment and infrastructure inside the building once used for plutonium processing.

   “About two-thirds of the Plutonium Finishing Plant is deactivated — cleaned out and ready for demolition,” said Jon Peschong, deputy Assistant Manager for River and Plateau for the Richland Operations Office. “Cleaning out the McCluskey Room will be a major step forward.”

   In the room, employees will encounter airborne radioactivity, surface contamination, and poor ventilation. Recognizing the significant hazards, workers traveled last year to a similarly contaminated EM site in Idaho and observed the use of advanced supplied air systems and protective suits, which they recommended for use at the plant. The system and equipment observed at the Idaho site have been in use for approximately nine years. For more details on that information exchange, click here.

   Hanford workers also developed procedures and training tailored for using the equipment at the plant. The equipment includes an abrasion-resistant suit that protects workers from surface contamination and chemicals. Workers will also wear devices for communicating with each other and for monitoring air inside the suit. A dual-purpose air system will provide cool air for breathing and cool air throughout the suit for worker comfort, allowing them to work in the facility for longer periods of time. The suit is pressurized, which helps prevent workers from coming into contact with airborne contaminants.

   “The employees involved in selecting the equipment and training on the equipment are some of the most experienced employees at CH2M HILL and at Hanford,” said Mike Swartz, CH2M HILL’s vice president for the Plutonium Finishing Plant Closure Project. “Their involvement in safety has been key as they prepare to enter the McCluskey Room.”

   Workers will improve ventilation, remove combustibles, control airborne contamination, and isolate and remove electrical and mechanical items. They will remove processing equipment, such as glove boxes and tanks, to prepare that portion of the plant for demolition.

   Watch this video that explains the history of the McCluskey Room and demonstrates the new equipment employees will use when they enter that area.

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