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Radioactive “Poop” Triggers Clean-Ups at DOE

November 11th, 2009 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: HazMat, Safety

Concerns for radioactive clean-up usually focus on items such as contaminated chemicals, tools, clothes and even vehicles. But now, DOE facilities around the country are attempting to prevent stray animals from wandering onto their sites and ingesting contamination. Detectors at the Hanford nuclear reservation (in Washington State) are claiming that “anything that hops, burrows, buzzes or crawls near a nuclear weapons plant may be capable of setting off a Geiger counter.” Last month, a government contractor mapped radioactive feces, at Hanford, with detectors mounted in a GPS equipped helicopter flying 50 feet over the desert scrub. Concentrations of droppings were recorded and ground workers then were sent out to “scoop the poop.” In California, at the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Lab, they attempt to prevent endangered species from entering the contaminated areas. Processing mostly plutonium, the short range alpha particles travel only a few inches in the air and make it harder to track. At the Savannah River Nuclear site in South Carolina, neighbors can enter a lottery once a year, to hunt on-site deer. Once shot, the deer are monitored for levels of Cesium-137. If the deer do show elevated contamination levels, the specific contamination source is removed and the hunter is allowed to take his “radiation free” carcass home. These programs indicate the level of containment that the DOE is funding in order to keep their sites clean and free from contamination.

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