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FLASHBACK: Transcripts Reveal Technetium, Neptunium and Plutonium at Huntington Pilot Plant Concern Over Parking Lot Radiation Expressed
Saturday, February 1, 2014 - 15:14 Updated 3 years ago by Tony Rutherford, Editor
The Huntington Pilot Plant operated on the grounds of International Nickel from 1951 to 1963. It was left in “stand by” mode from 1963 until November 1978. Beginning on November 27, 1978 and continuing through May 18, 1979, the building and its contents were decontaminated and demolished. The debris and scrap (some classified) were transported to Piketon, Ohio, where the debris, the trucks, and railroad cars were all buried in a classified location on the site of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Huntington Pilot Plant (HPP), also called Reduction Pilot Plant (RPP), was one of about a hundred Atomic Energy Plants which during the Cold War performed defense and weapons work for the AEP. HPP/RPP separated spent uranium and nickel (some of which MAY have been used in barrier cores near the fusion processes) from gaseous diffusion plants. During this recycling, the plant became contaminated with radiological elements ranging from uranium and nickel to technetium, neptunium and plutonium.
For many years the operations at the plant were classified. However, numerous workers from Huntington and other AEC facilities such as Portsmouth, Paducah and Oak Ridge have filed for compensation for multiple cancers contracted from radiation exposure .
At the time of the discussion, the administrators reviewing dose reconstructions expressed concern about finding non-uranium contaminants at HPP, specifically plutonium, neptunium and technetium. Prior to this time, the group had been unaware that during the recycling of uranium that came from a gaseous diffusion plant that other radioactive elements from the purified uranium.
The transcripts researched by HNN are part of documents in which government agencies and contractors sought to reconstruct doses for workers at these atomic plants. Either no readings were taken, the procedure at the time was inadequate or the documents were destroyed and/or marked classified. This necessitated a “reconstruction” for nuclear workers claiming cancer (sometimes of multiple organs) due to radiation exposures. In fact, workers submitting claims have had to have colleagues sign affidavits to prove they worked at facilities during pertinent time frames.
Experts quoted in the transcripts include: Steve Hnnnefeld, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH, a division of the Dept. of Health and Human Services/CDC); Dr. John Mauro, Sanford Cohen & Associates (S C & A); Dr. Jim Neton, NIOSH; Joe Fitzgerald, SC & A; Mark Griffon, president, Creative Pollution Solutions, Salem, N.H. They are/were members of an Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, Dec 11, 2006, Subcommittee Dose Reconstruction)
URANIUM FED THROUGH DIFFUSION FUSION CASCADES
In consideration of a worker’s claim, Stuart Hinnefeld, Department of Health and Human Services, stated, “Issue number one on the HPP is the comment that the uranium that contaminated the nickel --- the HPP took recycled nickel from the diffusion plant and purified it --- the nickel was contaminated with uranium that had been fed through the cascades… they (HPP) purified it and then sent it back to the diffusion plants.
However, Hinnefeld revealed “it had non-uranium contaminants in it … the ones typically of interest are plutonium, neptunium and technetium. That is a reminder to us that a uranium plant may not have had strictly uranium in its product.”
(Concerning dose studies , the group apparently agreed that an early calculation of a perhaps tenfold uranium enrichment exposure --- which was not always accurate --- offset adding doses for the non-uranium contaminants .)
Hinnefeld estimated “nickel air samples and a 500 part per million uranium specification in the nickel”
But Griffon stated, “I don’t see anything about estimates or any numbers on how much technetium, neptunium , plutonium might have been there… and [as] you are purifying the nickel, you’re obviously collecting the contaminants somewhere, so your contaminations could even be higher. I’m concerned about disregarding these transuranic exposures…
Hinnefeld responded, “there’s a fair amount of published information about transuranics in the recycled uranium stream. It was determined after the fact, but it seems to be a pretty good representation of the material.” He argued “the transuranics tend to stay in the cylinder…
Joe Firzgerald injected based on DOE questions that arose at Paducah (Gaseous Diffusion Plant) concerning recycled material in the DOE system that “significant radionuclides were in this and technetium was significant… it varied from site to site depending on the type of process. The nuclides were significant in certain evolutions and for certain worker groups.
Although the HPP/RPP went on “stand by” around 1962, the transcripts and statements by former employees indicate that the facility was still entered by employees. For instance, one claimant cleaned contaminants in the building (such as processes and elevator shafts) before it was left idle.
However, the “standby” status prompted radiation estimate experts to describe HPP/RPP as having a “sort of idiosyncrasy.” Hinnefeld explained, “one portion” of that plant “was shut down at a particular year [1962?] … and therefore verified employment reported to us by labor terminated with the shut-down of the HPP… [Afterwards] HPP wasn’t necessarily forbidden property , and so a worker who continued to work at Huntington could have entered and then had some residual contamination exposure. http://www.cdc.gov/Niosh/ocas/pdfs/abrwh/tr070705.pdf
STILL CHALLENGING DOSAGE ESTIMATES
By 2007, the DHHS/CDC/NIOSH dose reconstruction subcommittee on dose reconstruction still expressed criticisms regarding HPP doses.
DR. MAURO: I’ll just paint the picture. In this facility the person that was working there was externally exposed because there was airborne and deposited radioactivities of uranium on the ground. There were these things called birdcages, where they store uranium. This is the place where they took the nickel --- the fusion barrier from gaseous diffusion plants. Oak Ridge would ship these nickel barriers to this facility (HPP) to pro--- separate out the uranium and the nickel, which can be recycled and used to make more fusion barriers, and the uranium, which was enriched (of the fusion) some of it was recycled so it had trace elements of activation products.
You have a guy that was working there and what is his exposure? He’s exposed to any airborne radioactivity, any deposit of uranium that’s deposited, and he’s also exposed because he’s standing next to these birdcages where, once you’ve separated uranium out, you put it in these little containers….
DR. POSTON: The birdcages are large…
MR ALLEN: I think we used an upper end on that uranium concentration, or enrichment, one or the other….
DR MAURO: You used 39 percent , which is very conservative. You didn’t take into consideration there was the recycled. If you were to throw in the recycled components it would have added a little bit.
MR GRIFFON: Doesn’t that depend on the level of the recycled isotope? … I’m talking about the neptunium/plutonium issues…
DR MAURO: Yea, right
MR HINNEFELD: If you used a more realistic enrichment of uranium including the transuranics…..
DR MAURO: I mean, we’re walking away with this thinking the internal dose MAY (emphasis added) have been underestimated by more than a hundred-fold.
MR. HINNEFELD: … The revised profile would be a key element to this…
DR MAURO: It is a parking lot issue?
MR. HINNEFELD: No, no, we’ll, we’ll …
MR. GRIFFON: It’s in this parking lot, though.
(HNN has received reports from retirees that snow melts immediately (no matter what the accumulation elsewhere) on a parking lot at the plant which was apparently part of the HPP/RPP facility.)
MR. HINNEFELD: We owe a revived site profile.
ONE 2004 DOSAGE ESTIMATE
Dr Neton: “I really believe you had 1,000 millirem, but I can’t tell you if its somewhere between 100 millirem and 9,000 millirem.” (in conjunction with metabolish, August 25, 2004 ; http://www.cdc.gov/NIOSH/ocas/pdfs/abrwh/tr082504.pdf.
(Note: According to a current nuclear workers web site, the average worker in a nuclear power station would receive less than TWO m/rem per day. Individuals receive an average of 360 m/rems per year from natural and man-made sources (x-rays).
PAST AIRBORN PARTICFULATE CONTAMINATION
The work group concluded , at the time of the transcript, that airborne contaminants when the HPP/RPP was operating had likely been underestimated.
Some of the airborne measurements utilized to build the models “spanned a long period of time, some were collected more recently. The more recent samples probably under-represent the actual nickel airborne levels back in the time of this operation because plants got cleaner as time went on.
MR HINNEFELD: There would be some change in the intake rate again. We shouldn’t use recent air samples to describe work early on . An additional complication is we do have one of those historical numbers [for] Reduction Pilot Plant, and that’s lower than the TBD value, so I don’t know where that’s coming out at…