Recently I documented spent fuel rods from the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) being transferred to the water basins at the Idaho Cleanup Project. CWI or CH2M Hill Corporation and Washington Group International (now URS) operate the Idaho Cleanup Project at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in eastern Idaho.
At the water basins they temporarily store spent fuel rods in a series of lockers located deep under water. The stainless steel pool is connected to several separate pool systems by a canal. This allows them to store different fuel types in different pools so there is not a reaction and subsequent explosion.
The water basins are 20-40 feet deep and hold about 3.5 million gallons of deionized water. Since being built in the 1980s the water has never been changed because it creates the shielding from the radioactive fuel rods being temporarily stored. The water is fairly clean, but is considered a radiation area (RA). The area surrounding the pools is considered a Radiation Buffer Area (RBA). One does not have to wear personal protection equipment (PPE) in an RBA. In many of the pictures the fuel handlers are donning PPE because they are in the RA. This PPE protects and contains potential radiation exposure because the handlers remove (doff) the protective clothing upon leaving the RA.
It is very interesting documenting this process. I have radworker II training so I am permitted to enter radiation buffer areas, radiation areas and contamination areas with proper personal protection equipment (PPE) without an escort. An escort is someone who must follow your every step and watch you. With an escort you are only allowed in RBAs.
Everyone in an RBA must wear a dosimeter to measure your exposure to radiation. Safety is the first priority. If people are exposed to too much radiation the facility will face large cash penalties and potential shut down from the federal government. Not good for the contractor! So everyone errors on the side of caution and safety.
A ton of paper work, procedures and safety checks are completed to ensure SAFETY. Check one. Check two. Check three.
Plus one needs to be aware of your surroundings so you are not loitering near objects with high doses of radiation.
The worst thing… in my selfish opinion, is the poor light. High pressure sodium vapor lights with creamy yellow walls, yellow paint on all the equipment and personal protective equipment dyed yellow. A pain in the ass to white balance. Plus it is what I call “available darkness.”
Dark and crappy light. I would love to use my off-camera strobes, but I am told the infra-red remote and radio remotes are not allowed around all their equipment. Plus you are in an RBA so the radcon techs would have to survey everything out.
On a side note: Before leaving the facility my photography and video must be reviewed by a derivative classification officer with the Navy, since they also store spent nuclear fuel rods in the water basins. If there is anything classified from the Navy’s perspective my images would be deleted and my compact flash cards destroyed. Of course they would copy the cleared pictures before doing this. Also, a derivative classification officer with the Idaho Cleanup Project also has to review the images before they are released for external use. This blog is obviously considered external use.
A big thanks to the derivative classification officers for taking the time to clear these pictures.