K-25 Barrier Scrap Disposal Considered in 60s for Huntington Uranium Plant; 10% Chromium Levels Found in Sludge at Dietz

by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
K-25 Barrier Scrap Disposal Considered in 60s for Huntington Uranium Plant; 10% Chromium Levels Found in Sludge at Dietz

A series of letters form 1966-1968 discuss the standby status of the Huntington Pilot Plant. They originate from the Union Carbide Corp. Nuclear Division (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) as well as INCO then headquarters in New York. They discuss a future “barrier scrap disposal problem” from the K-25 plant in Oak Ridge , Tennessee.

Unclassified in 1990, a November 7, 1966 letter concludes the “logical course is to continue stand by maintenance on the Huntington Plant until more definite information is obtained on costs for converting scrap barrier to salable nickel and the possibility of using the lower cost power which INCO is now able to supply.

Prior to the closure, a contract from 1955, which is now unclassified states that the HPP produced for the Atomic Energy Commission “metallic nickel in powder form according to secret specifications provided by the AEC. Unclassified when not associated with K-25 barrier production. When associated with K-25 barrier production secret.’

The K-25 barrier relates to the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant from where weapons grade enriched uranium originated.  (Alliance for Nuclear Accountability The Threat of Major Water Suppliers from US DOE  Nuclear Weapons Plants 2004, p 130, http://www.rwma.com/ANA_Final.pdf ) and http://www.ananuclear.org.


Eventually, the Huntington plant was demolished and the contaminated materials drive in 59 trucks for burial at the X-749A (classified materials) burial site landfill in Piketon, Ohio. The burial took place under machine gun guard per eyewitnesses and according to reports from the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant security reports, the burial site remained subject to 24/7 patrol and guard.

K-25 Barrier Scrap Disposal Considered in 60s for Huntington Uranium Plant; 10% Chromium Levels Found in Sludge at Dietz

Beneath the PGDP site, the shallow aquifer could not be used for drinking water due to contamination of solvents, uranium and metals.  (ANA, p. 193, http://www.rwma.com/ANA_Final.pdf ) . Five groundwater plumes were identified beneath the site. One Portsmouth landfill at the site was closed in 1968 and covered with soil. “There are no records of what exists in that landfill,” (AMA, p . 194)

Chromium was one of the metals found as contaminating the aquifer in Portsmouth.

Salvage from Dietz Hollow identified chromium as one of the metals found in sludge there.

 

The ANA report indicated that Tc 99 and uranium came from the X-749 (and related X 749A landfill). To mitigate contamination in Piketon, "

 

“Several drainage ditches funneled contaminated liquid wastes offsite to nearby streams and creeks,such as the Little Beaver Creek. Pollutants were discharged from several onsite holding pools  to the Scioto River via the Sewage Plant Effluent pipeline. Poorly designed landfills contributed to the contamination. Technetium, uranium , trichloroethylene, chlorinated solvents and chromium are the main contaminants of concern found in the groundwater."

 

Five groundwater treatment facilities are operating at Portsmouth; most of the contaminants are removed, except for radionuclides.  Phytoremediationn (hybrid poplar trees) uses trees to treat groundwater contaminated by heavy metals and organic compounds.

Contamination Control

K-25 Barrier Scrap Disposal Considered in 60s for Huntington Uranium Plant; 10% Chromium Levels Found in Sludge at Dietz

In the early years, it was noted that employees were led to believe that uranium could be eaten without causing harm. This attitude continued into the 1980s. Since uranium was treated casually, historical practices occurred that would not be tolerated by today’s standards. For example, during a particularly cold part of the year, guards were placed at a post outside the X744G Building. A temporary shelter was erected with cylinders nearby. Individuals would sometimes lean against the cylinders to keep warm. People were exposed to a lot of radiation, because the managers and employees did not know any better. For example, it was not common knowledge that cylinders gave off more radiation when they were empty than when full. In 1981–1983, IHHP undertook a massive project to upgrade contamination controls at Portsmouth, which also included approximately 6 hours of training in health physics for plant personnel.

Engineering controls implemented at Portsmouth have included local ventilation (canopy hoods), slot ventilation, High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtered vacuums, HEPA filter systems, paint booths, fume hoods in the laboratory, and gloveboxes for sandblasting operations. Prior to the installation of some of these controls, there was a reliance on PPE. The cascades are designed as a closed system under negative pressure to prevent release of material outside the building. Prior to equipment removal or breach of a system, the cells were purged to lower potential for radiological contamination. The cascades underwent cleaning by the janitorial services routinely. About every 30 days, the floors were oiled as a part of the cleaning process. Although these control practices were in place, all the process buildings had contamination areas, and the ventilation systems were contaminated.

There were frequent releases ranging from a wisp of smoke to a full-blown continuous outgassing. There was little control of contamination, as demonstrated by the large amount of times that boundaries had to be established and expanded. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the buildings were typically considered contamination areas with little inside building controls. There were office areas within the production areas.

 

 

 


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