Steel, concrete-cutting saw needed to reach contaminated soil un - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Steel, concrete-cutting saw needed to reach contaminated soil underneath 324 Building

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RICHLAND, WA - CH2M's progress toward demolition of the 324 Building reached a new milestone this week. As preparations for the next steps in the project continue, the crews are practicing what they'll need to do with a saw that can cut through the concrete floor of the building.

Reporter Rex Carlin visited the Hanford site to see how workers are preparing.

The 324 Building was used as a testing and research facility where studies on highly radioactive materials were conducted. On Monday, for the first time in fifteen years, workers entered the airlock, which is adjacent to B-cell. Highly radioactive soil sits under B-cell, which likely came from a spill of liquid cesium and strontium in the mid-80s.

And that's where a floor saw comes in, tasked with having to cut through the stainless steel-lined concrete floor of B-cell so workers can get to the radioactive soil.

It's a high-stakes operation, so CH2M is practicing with the saw in a different facility, in a realistic mock-up of the same situation they'll face in the 324 Building.

"We want to prove out the equipment, make sure we get any sort of bugs out of it, how it operates, how it functions, make improvements on it," said Bill Kirby, vice president of the 300 area projects.

This is the first time since the radioactive soil was found in the original process of getting the building ready for demolition that anyone has been inside the airlock.

Kirby says the information collected Monday in the airlock is vital to moving forward with cutting open the floor and getting to the radioactive soil safely.

"What we do is we now use that data to determine anything that we need to do in terms of protective clothing and anything that we need to do in terms of temporary shielding to shield any hot spots - we refer to them as hot spots - inside that airlock space," Kirby said.

It's a process nobody ever thought would take this long before they found the radioactive waste, but now the 324 Building is closer to being demolished than any time in the last fifteen years.