More radioactively contaminated vehicles found at Hanford

Hanford (AP File)

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - The number of vehicles with specks of radioactive material has increased to 19 as checks continue at Hanford's Plutonium Finishing Plant continue.

Twelve additional government or contractor vehicles were found with radioactive contamination as of Wednesday afternoon, with 55 vehicles still to be surveyed, the Tri-City Herald reported.

The dozen contaminated government and contractor vehicles are in addition to seven worker vehicles found to have specks of contamination since demolition was completed Dec. 15 on the most contaminated section of the plant.

Work was halted for two days earlier this month after air monitors worn by several workers showed they might have inhaled radioactive particles.

Workers have since been cleared to return to the demolition of the plant, which for decades was part of the nation's nuclear weapons production complex.

The U.S. Department of Energy has called the work at the Plutonium Finishing Plant the most hazardous demolition project on the site.

"We take this very, very seriously," Ty Blackford, president of Energy contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co, said earlier this month. "We are dealing with a form of contamination that is very, very hard to manage."

The highest potential exposure was 11 millirems for one of the workers.

For comparison, the average person in the United States is exposed to 300 millirems of radiation annually from natural sources, such as radon or radiation bombarding Earth from outer space.

Workers wear the monitors near their faces as a check for airborne radioactive particles that could be inhaled.

No contamination was found at the homes of those workers.

Post-demolition surveying has found specks of radioactive material, some too small to see, spread outside the demolition zone.

Additional layers of fixative are being applied to areas where contamination has been found to keep it from becoming airborne.

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