Work progresses on safety concerns at empty Savannah River Site building

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 7:40 PM
Last updated 11:00 PM
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Significant progress has been made addressing ongoing concerns over plutonium hazards in an empty building at Savannah River Site, according to an official at the site.

Work to install an upgraded fire protection and alarm system for Building 235-F, de-energizing unnecessary electrical circuits and removing fixed combustibles such as carpet and walls, will be complete by October, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions project manager Dewitt Beeler said at a meeting Tuesday of the Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board.

In 2012, federal safety officials singled out safety issues in the building, which has residual contamination from decades of storing and shipping plutonium. The building most recently used plutonium-238 to make fuel for deep space missions in the 1980s.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board noted the building, in the site’s F Area, was vulnerable to fire because it lacked proper fire barriers and adequate fire detection and suppression systems.

“We are making tangible progress. It’s not just plans. We are actually making progress in the field towards addressing the issues that were raised,” Beeler said.

The residual contamination at Building 235-F includes a significant quantity of plutonium-238 in a highly dispersible, fine powder form. The safety board said seismic activity, electrical spark or heat from electrical equipment could ignite a fire.

Planning work to address the building began in 2013 but was slowed during federal budget sequestration, Beeler said. A revised, aggressive timeline is in place to remove the residual plutonium in the next five years.

Emergency response drills have also been held to test the ability of emergency personnel assigned to the area near 235-F.


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