RICHLAND — The Department of Energy plans to close a testing laboratory on the Hanford nuclear reservation and send samples of air, water, soil and sludge to outside labs to save money.
The Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility will close within a year, the department told employees Wednesday.
The closure will affect 81 workers with the Mission Support Alliance and its subcontractor, RJ Lee, the Tri-City Herald reported Thursday. The employees include at least 42 Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council workers.
"The work in question is ours and we intend to fight for it," said Dave Molnaa, HAMTC president.
The facility contains the 40,000-square-foot lab and about a dozen nearby buildings used for sample archiving, data management and canister cleaning.
The lab opened in 1994 to analyze trace amounts of chemicals and radioactive materials in samples from cleanup work and environmental monitoring.
Closing the lab will save about $12 million a year, Matt McCormick, manager of the DOE Richland Operations Office, said in a message to Hanford workers. Offsite labs can provide the same analytical services at significantly lower costs, he said.
Twenty years ago, DOE and its regulators were not confident that off-site labs could quickly perform the volume of work needed, McCormick said. But the capacity and turnaround times of off-site labs have improved since then and shipping has become faster and more reliable.
Hanford contractor Washington Closure Hanford already is using off-site labs rather than the Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility, and contractors at other DOE sites across the nation also successfully ship their samples offsite, McCormick said.
When the Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility is no longer needed, it will be kept in a low-cost maintenance mode until it is demolished. Because of its low risk to the environment, demolition is not expected soon.
Meanwhile, samples of high-level radioactive waste from underground Hanford tanks will continue to be sent to the 222-S Laboratory in central Hanford, which will operate as usual.