2002-05-16 / Front Page

BOMARC cleanup to begin Radioactive waste at Plumsted site will be taken to Utah

Staff Writer
By cindy tietjen

BOMARC cleanup to begin
Radioactive waste at
Plumsted site will be
taken to Utah

PLUMSTED — Forty-two years after a nuclear warhead caught fire and leaked plutonium in Plumsted, a cleanup of the site is finally scheduled to begin this month.

On June 7, 1960, a fire destroyed a nuclear warhead-equipped missile in Shelter 204 at the Boeing Michigan Aeronautical Research Center (BOMARC) facility. Although no nuclear explosion took place, the fire badly damaged the missile and the shelter, according to information provided by military officials.

The accident released plutonium, a radioactive material, into the environment. Heat from the fire and fire-suppression activities aided dispersion of plutonium over a 7-acre area in front of the shelter, along a drainage ditch and a portion of a drainage creek near Route 539.

It was reported that the U.S. Air Force immediately implemented measures to protect people and the environment. Those measures included washing down the shelter and apron area, spray-painting inside and outside the shelter to affix contamination and pouring a protective layer of 4 inches of reinforced concrete over the asphalt apron in front of Shelter 204 to immobilize the plutonium contamination.

In addition, 2 inches of asphalt was placed along the bottom of the drainage ditch inside the boundary fence. In 1967, an additional 2 inches of concrete was added to the small portion of the apron covering the manhole access to communication and power pits.

Now, more than four decades later, the area covered in concrete and asphalt will be ripped up and the contaminated soil will be removed and transported to a Utah waste site.

According to information obtained from the McGuire Air Force Base Internet Web site, the total cost of the cleanup project is $9.6 million. The Air Force provides the funding to the Army Headquarters Operations Support Command, the executive agent for radioactive waste, which awarded the contracts.

Duratek Inc. will clean up and transport the waste. A separate disposal contract was awarded to Envirocare in Utah. Other costs associated with the project are $500,000 to Lakehurst for construction of a new commercial gate and road.

According to the Web site, the BOMARC waste is Class A, low-level radioactive waste, the lowest of the three levels of low-level radioactive waste. Despite that fact, officials in Plumsted and neighboring towns were concerned about the safety of the cleanup process.

Officials have said that approximately 800 truckloads of material will be transported through a reactivated rail line from the Fort Dix accident site to a rail line on the base of the Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station.

A section of Route 547 in the Lakehurst section of Manchester Township was closed by the Air Force last week so that repairs could be made to the Lakehurst rail line.

BOMARC was a Cold War-era Air Force nuclear missile site. The missiles were supersonic ground-to-air weapons designed to destroy attacking aircraft and airborne missiles. The facility in rural Plumsted was one of eight located around the country. The Air Force operated the Plumsted facility from 1959-72.

According to the McGuire Web site, the cleanup is expected to be complete by September or October.

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