Adoption of Protective Equipment for Use Inside 242-Z at Hanford's Plutonium Finishing Plant Closure Project
Workers from the Department of Energy's Idaho and Hanford sites participate in a 2013 information exchange
The Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP) was the primary facility for producing plutonium at Hanford from the 1940s to the 1980s and is nearing the final stages of cleanup, with the cleanup work now transitioning to some of the most complex and hazardous parts of the facility. One of those facilities is the Americium Recovery Facility (242-Z), which is part of PFP. The Americium Recovery Facility was left heavily contaminated following a 1976 accident, in which an ion exchange column tank burst, leaving the room highly contaminated, and few entries occurred over the years.
From 2009-2011, cleanup of the Plutonium Finishing Plant and 242-Z received a boost thanks to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. CH2M HILL employees entered 242-Z and began large-scale demolition efforts. They removed two of five glove boxes and associated piping. During this time, employees used supplied air systems and conventional personal protective equipment (PPE). High airborne contamination levels and conventional PPE limited stay times. Improved worker protection and increased efficiency for this work was needed.
CH2M HILL assembled a team of PFP employees to research PPE options that would increase safety and efficiency at PFP, specifically inside 242-Z. The team represented a cross-section of PFP employees, including nuclear chemical operators, safety representatives, radiological control technicians, engineers and management. Upon learning of success performing similar high-hazard work at the Department of Energy's Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) in Idaho, the team visited that site for a two-day information exchange.
The workers at AMWTP use a respirator called PremAire®, supplied by Mine Safety Appliances, that is fitted with a vortex cooling tube. Employees wear that respirator inside a fully encapsulating suit made by Rich Industries. The equipment offered improved protection from higher chemical and radiological concentrations and reduced heat stress on workers through the use of a vortex cooling tube.
Training And Application
A CH2M HILL employee trains on equipment inside a mockup of the Americium Recovery Facility
(242-Z) at the Hanford Site
PFP employees returned to Hanford, continued to evaluate the equipment and recommended its use inside 242-Z. CH2M HILL management concurred with the workers' recommendations. In addition to procuring the suits and respirators, management purchased two Kaeser rotary screw breathing air compressors. None of this equipment had been used at Hanford before. Throughout the spring and summer of 2013, PFP workers developed advanced dress/undress training courses and trained coworkers on the equipment inside a full-scale replica of 242-Z, built at the Hanford Site's HAMMER Training Center.
In September 2014, workers entered 242-Z for the first time since 2011 to begin the final work toward cleaning out that room and preparing it for demolition. Stay times in the area are longer due to the increased protection from the high radiation levels (derived air concentration, or DAC) levels and the lower temperatures within the suit, protecting employees from heat stress.
A CH2M HILL employee wore specialized respiratory equipment and protective suits when entering one of the most hazardous rooms at the Hanford Site in September 2014, increasing protection from high radiation levels and heat stress.