[ RadSafe ] DOE warns CH2M Hill about exposure

Susan Gawarecki loc at icx.net
Wed Jul 20 17:37:23 CDT 2005

DOE warns CH2M Hill about exposure
Tuesday, July 12th, 2005
By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer

The Department of Energy has sent a warning letter to Hanford contractor 
CH2M Hill Hanford Group but decided not to issue a notice of violation 
or impose a fine after a company employee received more radiation than 
expected last year.

At the end of fiscal 2004, the employee's cumulative neutron dose was 
274 millirem, a measurement of the potential biological effect on 
humans. DOE said proper safety steps weren't followed.

The DOE-set limit is 500 millirem annually, but contractors strive to 
keep exposure lower. The average occupational dose from working at a DOE 
nuclear facility is 74 millirem.

The worker was assigned to use radioactive material in known quantities 
and strengths to check and fix neutron probes. The probes include a 
radioactive material to check for liquid within the hardened salt cake 
of Hanford's underground tanks. The tanks hold 53 million gallons of 
radioactive waste from the past production of plutonium for the nation's 
nuclear weapons program.

CH2M Hill voluntarily reported the unexpected exposure to DOE's Office 
of Price-Anderson Enforcement, which ensures that nuclear safety 
requirements are followed.

"Your investigation into the cause of the exposure revealed significant 
breakdowns in both work planning for the job evolution and in control of 
the neutron source," wrote Stephen Sohinki, director of the office, in 
the letter to CH2M Hill.

The contractor used a general work plan and verbal instructions for the 
work, which bypassed a radiation specialist who would have otherwise 
reviewed the work scope or developed a specific work plan to protect 
workers, according to the letter.

The contractor also requires certain steps be followed before a worker 
is given radioactive material for uses such as instrument repair by the 
"source custodian." However, the worker had access to the material 
without going to the source custodian, according to the letter.

"Typically, I would consider pursuing enforcement action for events 
involving such extensive and fundamental breakdowns," Sohinki wrote.

The office has seven potential remedies for safety problems, starting 
with monitoring corrective actions and escalating to referring the 
matter for criminal prosecution.

The warning letter is second on the list of actions.

Because of the limited scope of the problem and the contractor's prompt 
and thorough investigation, Sohinki plans no formal enforcement action. 
In addition, steps have been taken to correct the problem, he wrote.

"We have changed our procedures to make sure it will not happen again," 
CH2M Hill spokeswoman Joy Turner said.

That includes tighter controls on who has access to radioactive 
material, more training and more specific work plans.

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