Jan 28, 2008
Originally published 02:20 p.m., January 28, 2008
Updated 04:12 p.m., January 28, 2008
OAK RIDGE — Three workers were contaminated with radioactivity Jan. 16 while unpacking a container at an Oak Ridge waste-processing facility, a state spokeswoman confirmed today.
Lung tests on the workers were clear, but plant officials are still awaiting lab results of biological samples to determine if there was any internal contamination, said Tisha Calabrese-Benton of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The incident occurred at the EnergySolutions facility on Bear Creek Road, and a small area of one building was contaminated with radioactive material released during the operation, Calabrese-Benton said.
“The area in the building has been decontaminated, and there was no release to the environment,” she said.
Calabrese-Benton said the state agency did not send anybody to inspect the facility and was basing its information on verbal communications with plant officials.
There reportedly were a number of problems with the waste shipment that arrived from a facility at Portsmouth, Ohio, she said.
“The manifest did not properly characterize the nature of the (radioactive) source,” she said. “It was characterized as a sealed source, which I’m sure meant it’s not directly spreadable by contact. In this case, it was a powder in a glass container, which would not constitute a sealed source.”
Calabrese-Benton said the inner-most container spilled some of its radioactive contents, although there were several overpacks in the shipping container — so none was released to the environment during the transportation from Ohio to Tennessee.
“It wasn’t an issue until it came to unpackaging it,” she said.
The state contacted the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission “to make them aware of the shipping issues,” Calabrese-Benton said.
Mark Walker, a spokesman for Utah-based EnergySolutions, said the shipments came from a U.S. Enrichment Corp. facility at Portsmouth, Ohio.
He said some of the powder came out of the container when it was being opening. The lab results of the three workers should be available by sometime Tuesday, he said.
Even though the contaminated area was cleaned up, it remains under restrictions until additional sampling confirms the results, Calabrese-Benton said.
She said the shipment’s manifest reportedly listed uranium-232 and thorium-239 as the radioactive contents. However, she said one of the containers indicated that uranium-233 also was present.
Walker said he was unaware of that issue, but he said EnergySolutions would have additional discussions with USEC regarding the shipping problems.