The Department of Energy is so disconnected from reality that the oganization again ignores the laws of the land and the concerns of the citizens near KAPL. The reason, of course, for ignoring the laws is that evidence of a fifty year  coverup can be continued by destroying the evidence of the coverup and get the GAO/GE/DOE/NR off the hook for lying to Congress.
Cleanup begins at Knolls lab site used in 1950s
By CHERYL CLARK - Gazette Reporter
Three short years later, the effort was abandoned. For the next half-century, the equipment at the Separations Process Research Unit at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory stood unused, with powerful air filters keeping the buildings at a lower pressure than the outside air to keep nuclear contamination from spreading.
Now the federal government is beginning to clean up the site, which it considers a contamination risk, but not an immediate threat to health and environmental safety.
"You may ask why are we only getting to this 45 years after shutting down the facility," said Andrew Seepo, a director of the Schenectady Naval Reactors Office. "It's considered to be a pretty low priority because there is no exposure concern."
John P. "Jack" Shannon, who worked as a physicist and nuclear reactor designer at Knolls from 1959 to 1990, said he believes Knolls is underplaying the severity of the contamination. He believes radioactive contamination has spread further than Knolls is letting on at this point because of the way spring rains flood the area along the Mohawk River each year.
Knolls spokesman James E. Burns said the site has been tested 147 times in the last decade, with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation reviewing the results.
"The trouble is that they've done the testing," said Shannon. "The SPRU facility is a disaster. That's why it's going to cost so much to clean up."
The project, overseen by the Department of Energy's Oakland operation office in California, will cost $200 million over the next 14 years, according to federal project documents.
The contaminated area, which is two miles east of the city of Schenectady, covers about 200 acres of the 4,100-acre laboratory site, according to the DOE.
For the first time, Knolls officials allowed a reporter and photographer to tour selected parts of the cleanup site Thursday. KAPL's Burns said the highly secretive facility granted the access because it wants to open lines of communication with neighbors and the local community.
A representative of DOE's Oakland Operations Center met with Niskayuna Supervisor Luke Smith about two weeks ago to inform him that test work was about to begin, according to Smith.
"They said it would be monitored by the state DEC," the town official said. "They invited me up, and now that the [town] budget is done, I'll probably go. But I'm not an engineer or anything. I rely on DEC. We'll take them at their word until we see any different."
The DOE has owned the Knolls land since 1946, when General Electric sold it to the agency formerly known as the Atomic Energy Commission. GE also signed a contract with the Manhattan Engineering District, or "Manhattan Project," to operate an atomic power lab at the site with government funding.
The SPRU project was conceived in 1947, when the Atomic Energy Commission declared it vital not to waste plutonium or uranium. Under the Manhattan Project deal, GE had also taken over the Hanford Engineering Works in Richland, Wash., which used natural uranium-fueled reactors to produce plutonium.
Hanford asked Knolls to build a pilot plant to extract uranium and plutonium from its irradiated fuels. Knolls originally started the SPRU experiments in a building on Peek Street in Schenectady, then opened two buildings at the Niskayuna site in June 1950.
Then, just four months later, Hanford asked the Knolls scientists to help DuPont develop a fuel recovery plant at its Savannah River site in South Carolina using a slightly different technology. SPRU quickly began to modify the Niskayuna plant to use the same process as Savannah River.
DOE documents don't explain why the pilot plant was shut down in June 1953. Reports in The Schenectady Gazette indicate an accidental death at the pilot plant in March 1951, but laboratory officials said at the time that radiation was not a factor. Knolls told the Gazette that Joseph A. Stevens, 27, died after the fresh air supply failed in a small test area of the pilot plant.
KAPL's Burns said he believes the pilot plant was closed because it had completed the experimental work it was designed for. Production work was done in South Carolina.
By the mid-1950s, Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, assigned to the Atomic Energy Commission's Division of Reactor Development, shifted Knolls' efforts solely to the development of nuclear propulsion systems for submarines.
Eight years ago, General Electric sold its contract at Knolls to Martin Marietta, which later merged with Lockheed Corp. to form Lockheed Martin.
Today, Knolls is the second-largest employer in Schenectady County, with an annual payroll of $165 million. It employs 2,100 at the office complex on River Road and another 1,830 Navy and civilian personnel at the Kesselring training site in West Milton.
It will take six years to complete the testing and cataloging of contaminates. The cleanup will involve two buildings on the River Road campus: Building G-2, where scientists boiled irradiated fuels in acid in below-ground vaults; and neighboring Building H-2, where radioactive wastes were pumped via an underground pipeline and packed into 55-gallon barrels.
There is a defunct railroad spur with several storage sheds used until the waste barrels were shipped to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in 1954. Project manager Steven B. Feinberg, who was assigned by the Oakland office, said he thinks some radioactive material may have seeped from the barrels during two or three harsh winters. They will also test a nearby Knolls parking lot that may have been built using contaminated fill scraped from the area along the railbed.
Using alpha and beta-gamma "friskers" to check for radioactivity, workers began tests last week in a wooded patch overlooking the Mohawk River where solidified-oatmeal-like waste was stored in barrels from 1952 to 1954. They are looking for cesium-137 and strontium-90 - both of which have a half-life of 30 years - and plutonium, which has a half-life of more than 20,000 years.
They will also sample the site of a laundry facility used to clean radioactivity from work clothes.
On Thursday, a crew of about 20 workers used an augur bit and drill rig to bore down about 30 feet under the paved lot between G-2 and H-2. Somewhere under the rig was the pipe that carried radioactive wastes five decades ago from the pilot plant to holding tanks 9 feet below grade.
"The amount of radioactivity we are concerning ourselves with in many cases are lower than what would naturally occur in any soil," said Seepo, of the Naval Reactors Office. "Nevertheless, if we find it, it's our job to deal with it."
The cleanup workers include contract employees from local firms C.T. Male Associates and Aquifer Drilling & Testing Inc.
When the project is finished, the DOE expects the site to be approved for "unrestricted use" on soil with no more contamination than would be found naturally at the average golf course.
Heavily contaminated materials will be packaged and shipped to a disposal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Uncontaminated materials will be disposed of in local landfills, according to the project documents.