Battelle cleans up research site in WJ

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Clean-up of Battelle Memorial Institute’s nuclear sciences site in West Jefferson is nearly complete.

The site sits on 32 acres of Battelle’s 1,200-acre campus on Route 142 along Big Darby Creek. The nuclear sciences research facility, which was built in the 1950s, performed nuclear energy research including fabrication of uranium fuel elements, nuclear reactor development, nuclear fuel processing and safety studies on reactor vessels and piping. The fuels research ceased in 1977.

The facility operated under a license issued by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). When a licensed facility ceases operation, the NRC requires that a site be decommissioned, or cleaned up, according to certain criteria. The purpose is to remove the facilities from service and reduce residual radioactivity to a level that allows the property to be safe for public use.

Earlier this month, the NRC announced that Battelle has met the criteria for releasing the West Jefferson site. Termina-tion of the license is expected to take place by March 31.

The clean-up process has been long. After the facility closed, Battelle began negotiations with the U.S. Department of Energy on shared responsibility for the clean-up costs and developed a decommis-sioning plan. The NRC approved Battelle’s plan in 1994.

Decommissioning activities at the nuclear science site started in 1999.

“We removed waste, we removed buildings, and we removed piping,” said Joe Jacobsen, Battelle’s radiation safety officer under the NRC.

The radioactive waste was packaged in drums or 100 cubic-foot boxes and sent to burial options around the United States, Jacobsen said. Among the buildings that were removed were a hot cell building, where robots were controlled remotely to work with nuclear fuel, a support laboratory, and a reactor building, where the effects of radiation of metals was studied.

“We did a lot of soil sampling and verified that we were not leaving things behind,” Jacobsen said.

Battelle’s clean-up crew aimed for leaving the site in a state that would allow a farmer to live year-round on the land, raise livestock, plant crops and raise a gar-den without undue exposure to radiation. When the crew was done, they ran tests. The tests showed that the farmer’s ex-posure would amount to 10 units more than a person experiences on average per year, which is 360 units of radiation. The added exposure amounts to just one extra chest X-ray, Jacobsen said.

“The model was designed to be extremely conservative,” he said.

Once the NRC terminates Battelle’s license for the site, the 32 acres will be granted “unrestricted use” status. That means Battelle could sell the land to anyone, though Jacobsen said Battelle has no plans to do so at this time.

In addition to Battelle’s air, water and soil tests, the NRC performed its own radiation surveys and verified Battelle’s results. The NRC conducted 24 inspections to make sure the decommissioning activi-ties met safety regulations for workers and the contamination was removed properly.

Ohio EPA’s Concerns

As part of the decommissioning process, the NRC is required to consult with the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The week of Feb. 18, during which the NRC held its last public meeting on the decommissioning, the Ohio EPA sent a letter to the NRC that requests further testing of one part of the 32-acre site.

The EPA is concerned about radio-isotope levels that are slightly over drinking water standards in a quarter-acre area of shallow ground water on the site.

“Their worry is more about its potential to migrate over time to another water source,” Jacobsen said. “We feel that everything is fine and safe.”

The soil is made up of clay, which holds up water movement, he said. Additionally, the employees in the facilities that remain in operation on the 1,200-acre campus use water from a tower on-site that meets drinking water standards, he said.

Battelle and the NRC were aware of the EPA’s concerns and have been working with the EPA throughout the decommis-sioning process, Jacobsen said.

On the West Jefferson campus, Battelle operates a biomedical research center, gasification labs, a hazardous materials research center, a high energy research lab, and pipeline research facilities.

For more about Battelle, go to www.battelle.org. For more about decommissioning activities in West Jefferson, go to www.nrc.gov/info-finder/decommissioning/complex/battelle-columbus-laboratories.html.

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