AMID rolling pastures 24 kilometers
southeast of Lawrence Livermore’s main site, the buildings
and bunkers of the Laboratory’s Experimental Test Site tuck
neatly into fingers of canyons punctuated with coastal sage and
blue oak. One’s eye catches, perhaps, a jackrabbit, and the
quiet of the landscape interweaves the tinkling song of a horned
Three years ago, the site’s new Contained Firing Facility
(CFF) brought explosives tests indoors and minimized the dispersion
of waste, providing more environmental protection than was previously
possible in controlled open-air firing areas. Today, a new cleanup
program developed for the CFF keeps the indoor firing chamber environment
clean and maintains beryllium exposure well below established limits.
Contained Firing Facility at Site 300 is situated in a remote
24 kilometers southeast of Lawrence Livermore’s main
New Standard, New Challenges
CFF was designed to conduct nonnuclear high-explosive experiments
in support of the nation’s Stockpile Stewardship Program.
When the CFF first fired up operations, a great challenge was born.
In the shift from performing outdoor detonations, a firing environment
was created that would contain hazardous materials in one confined
spot, which, in turn, created the need for a novel cleanup effort
never before undertaken.
to the cleanup effort is the mitigation of harmful effects from
beryllium exposure. About every third shot fired at the CFF
contains beryllium, a naturally occurring metal that is used in
nuclear weapons because of its capacity as a highly effective moderator
and reflector for neutrons. But, as good as beryllium is for nuclear
reactions, in certain forms—namely, as an airborne particulate—it
can be harmful to the health and safety of workers who come into
regular contact with it.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards allow for
a permissible exposure limit of 2 micrograms of beryllium
per cubic meter per 8-hour period, the Department of Energy (DOE)
has raised the bar an order of magnitude for its facilities. DOE
mandates that a working environment remain below an “action
level” of 0.2 microgram of beryllium per cubic meter per
8-hour period, regardless of respiratory protection used. At this
level or above, worker protection provisions must be implemented.
In addition, the goal of Livermore’s Chronic Beryllium Disease
Prevention Program is to keep exposure levels as far below the
mandated action level as is practical.
Starting from Scratch
B Program’s Site 300 facility manager Gordon Krauter and
facility supervisor Jack Lowry worked with Livermore Hazards Control
personnel to develop a protocol that would allow members of the
CFF team to safely reenter the concrete firing chamber within a
day of a detonation to retrieve experimental data and begin the
cleanup procedure. The CFF team also needed access to the chamber
between shots with minimal personal protective gear.
directly with the CFF team, Dave Zalk, an industrial hygienist,
became convinced that to perform the tasks routinely done in the
CFF, workers must be free to hear, speak, and move about in as
unfettered a manner as possible. So the team was not content to
establish a protocol that still required facility workers to don
cumbersome self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) gear (gear
that’s similar to scuba equipment but is not for use underwater)
or respirators when working in the chamber after cleanup. It was
a tall order to fill.
some, the prospect of reaching decontamination levels that allowed
workers back into the chamber without a SCBA suit after a shot
electron microscope captures an image of mixed debris collected
from the Contained Firing Facility’s firing chamber after
Water, Water Everywhere
developing an optimal beryllium cleanup program, the Hazards Control
team realized that water would be a major factor in the
effort. Upon entering the chamber after a test shot, workers were
surprised to find scattered puddles of water. They found that,
by accident, the drainage conduit running the length of one of
the chamber walls was not completely emptied of water before detonating
the test shot. Also, the postshot levels of metals were a fraction
of what they expected. This finding led to the development of the
low-tech but highly effective technique to help mitigate the beryllium
contamination of a blast.
team placed large cardboard barrels in the chamber, filled them
with water, and left them in the chamber to explode during
the next shot. The resulting action was not entirely unlike an
indoor rainstorm: The water in the barrels aerosolized, filled
the volume of the chamber, and fell in droplets to the floor, capturing
much of the particulate matter produced during the shot and depositing
it in a thick layer of sludge on the chamber floor. Previously,
the postshot environment consisted of fine dust clouds and particulate
matter easily stirred up by workers entering the chamber. But the
aftermath of this water explosion was an environment in which the
fine particles of beryllium and other wastes were trapped in a
layer of mud, which could be scooped up with snow shovels and then
transferred to the appropriate containers for disposal at a federal
hazardous waste facility.
Water, Air, and . . . Hair Spray?
three-pronged cleanup procedure that emerged as the preferred and
most effective approach combines a purging of contaminated
air, subsequent water washes in addition to the test shot’s
water blast, and a final finishing touch of hair spray. Yes—hair
first of the three steps involves a complete purging and filtering
of the chamber air. The ventilation system, which is capable of
10 complete air changes per half hour, is run for 45 minutes
before the 25-ton door to the firing chamber is opened. The exhaust
gases from the purge are processed through a series of filters
before being released to the atmosphere.
the chamber is purged and observed for any live explosives, a CFF
team wearing SCBA enters to collect the test data—a
large cassette containing radiographic film that captures an image
of the test material at the moment of implosion. Then the cleanup
procedure, which can take up to several weeks, begins. A remotely
operated oscillating washing apparatus is set up in the chamber,
which is again sealed for the 15-minute water wash and scrub down.
About 38,000 liters of recycled water later, the chamber is opened,
and the team reenters to mop up. Water brooms, garden hoses, giant
squeegees, and a large-capacity vacuum cleaner round out the technologies
used in the procedure. “It’s amazing how low-tech a
solution this is to such a high-tech problem,” observes hydrodiagnostic
technician Keith Toon.
of the nature of beryllium, and the manner in which it is embedded
in the nooks and crannies of the chamber walls from
the force of the explosion, it is nearly impossible to remove all
traces from the chamber. However, the CFF team found that the beryllium
does not have to be removed from the walls to be rendered benign;
it just has to be rendered immobile. As a result, the final cleanup
step involves a spray application of an encapsulating solution
that is similar in formula to hair spray. The solution coats and
adheres to the chamber surfaces and keeps any errant beryllium
particles stuck in place—until the next shot, anyway, at
which time the encapsulant is knocked loose by the blast and the
entire cleanup process begins again. Adding this final step shaves
two weeks off the cleanup time and allows for more shots to be
scheduled than was previously possible.
types of personal protective equipment are used at the Contained
Firing Facility. The white suits shown above are worn for working
outside the firing chamber and for performing dry operations
in the chamber after cleanup. The brown suits are worn for
wet operations (that is, cleaning and decontamination) inside
A Clean Sweep
air monitoring at the CFF shows the results of the cleanup protocol
are impressive. Concentration levels of beryllium are
consistently below the mandated action level. “The success
that we have achieved is a testament to the excellent teamwork
between B Division and Hazards Control personnel,” says Zalk.
this massive effort may seem tedious at times, what it has offered—in addition to surpassing health guidelines—is
peace of mind and a better working environment. Toon agrees. “Not
having to always wear the SCBA suit has made working in this environment
easier. We’ve got enough data now to better handle and control
the beryllium. We take extra steps to make sure everything is safe.
I definitely worry less.”
worry for facility workers. Less hazardous waste for the songbirds
and jackrabbits. That’s something to sing about.
—Maurina S. Sherman
Key Words: beryllium, Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program
(CBDPP), Contained Firing Facility (CFF), Site 300.
For further information contact Gordon Krauter
(925) 423-2836 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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