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Dismantling process of pioneer nuclear station – it’s still dangerous

How do you dismantle a nuclear power plant? Very, very carefully.  Before they can break apart this historic Army facility, they have to make sure it’s not radioactive, WP, By Michael E. Ruane, February 1 2010 Behind the locked gates of Building 372 at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, past the door to the huge containment vessel where a sign warns of radiation, a large button on the control panel is covered in red plastic and reads: “manual scram.”

This is the emergency shutdown button, which nuclear legend says was pushed when it was time to scram.

But these days, the dark interior of the Army’s historic nuclear reactor, once called an “atomic-age miracle machine,” is a maze of rusted pipes, peeling paint and pressure gauges reading zero.

Keys in the control panel haven’t been turned in years, and switches are set to “off.”

The world’s first nuclear plant to supply energy to a power grid has been defunct for years. But the Army is preparing to break it up, check it for lingering radiation and haul it away piece by piece.

Dedicated in 1957, as the government was promoting “Atoms for Peace,” the facility was a training site and a prototype for small reactors that could produce power for bases in remote places around the world, the Army said. Built on the Potomac River’s Gunston Cove, it was called the SM-1, for stationary medium power plant No. 1.

“First nuclear power plant ever to put power on a grid, ever in the world,” said Hans B. Honerlah, a senior health physicist with the Army Corps of Engineers’ hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste branch.

The SM-1 trained hundreds of nuclear plant specialists before it was shut down in 1973. By then, the military’s need for such expensive plants had dwindled, said Charles Harmon, a former shift supervisor at the facility and an unofficial historian of the site. “The cost of the Vietnam War was making funds scarce,” Harmon said.

The plant’s uranium-235 fuel and reactor waste were removed in 1973 and ’74 and taken to a storage site in South Carolina. The 64-foot-high concrete-and-steel containment vessel that housed the smaller reactor vessel and other equipment was sealed.

But all these years later, there still is likely residual nuclear contamination of some of the internal structures, Army experts said.

Before the site is torn down, experts will check everything for radiation and look for any impacts to the environment and historical record.

Honerlah said at Fort Belvoir earlier this month: “It’d be great to make it a museum, but it’s always going to be radioactive.

“It has to go away. It’s never going to not be radioactive. The goal . . . is to take the remaining radioactive components, remove them from the . . . facility here and take them” to a nuclear waste site, probably in western Texas………

Corps of Engineer officials said they hope to start the process next year. They said it would probably take five years to finish. “These facilities were really not built to be taken apart,” Barber said.

‘Atoms for Peace’

In 1954, the SM-1 was described by The Washington Post as a miracle machine that could provide power anywhere in the world……

Years before the nuclear plant disasters at Three Mile Island in 1979Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986, and Fukushima in Japan in 2011, hopes were that nuclear power could be clean and safe. ……https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/02/01/how-do-you-dismantle-nuclear-power-plant-very-very-carefully/?utm_term=.5704ad3cf0b4

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February 2, 2019 - Posted by | decommission reactor, USA

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