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LM Meets with Native Village of Point Hope, Alaska

April 9, 2014 - 10:45am


LM Site Manager, Mark Kautsky, explains the planned remediation to
residents of the Village of Point Hope.


U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) federal and contractor staff traveled to Point Hope, Alaska, on March 3, 2014, to consult with officials from the Native Village of Point Hope Tribal Council. They also conducted a public meeting with the residents of Point Hope about cleanup of five test holes that were drilled in the 1960s by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) at the Project Chariot site near Cape Thompson, Alaska.

The Plowshare Program was created in 1957 by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a DOE predecessor agency, to study peaceful uses for atomic energy. As part of that program, Project Chariot began in 1958 when a science team chose Cape Thompson as a potential site to excavate a harbor using a series of nuclear explosions. AEC, with assistance from other state and federal agencies, conducted more than 40 pretest bioenvironmental studies of the Cape Thompson area between 1959 and 1962. Plowshare Program work at the Project Chariot site was canceled because of strong public opposition. No nuclear devices were brought to the Chariot site, and nuclear tests were not conducted at the site.

During the exploratory phase of the project, conducted from 1959 to 1961, USGS drilled four test holes to depths ranging from 600 to 1,200 feet below ground surface. The holes were drilled to conduct studies that would help researchers learn more about subsurface geotechnical conditions, including the depth of permafrost, which extended to approximately 1,000 feet beneath the surface. “Scaling tests” were conducted using high explosives. USGS intended to conduct at least one other test within an additional drill hole. However, the scaling test didn’t take place and the hole remains at the site to this day.

All that is left of the test holes are the steel casings that protrude from the ground and areas of diesel-contaminated soil. “Back in those days, the USGS used refrigerated diesel to improve borehole stability when drilling in arctic regions; consequently, the soil around some of the drill pads contains residual diesel that exceeds the Alaska State standards, and that is what we plan to remediate this summer,” said Mark Kautsky, LM Site Manager for the project.

LM is teaming with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)–Alaska District to conduct remediation of the Project Chariot drill-hole sites. An important part of the work process is informing the local village of the intended action and understanding their concerns, in order for the work to flow smoothly. LM federal and contractor staff and two representatives from USACE conducted a community-outreach meeting. The community expressed concerns about whether they would be able to hunt caribou at the site during the planned remediation, and about being able to observe the remediation. The community also has concerns with cancer rates in their village.

Remediation of the site is projected to occur between mid-July and mid-September 2014.

Point Hope, Alaska, Town Hall.