Workers at the Blue Grass plant have begun the systematic decommissioning and removal of equipment from the main plant.
“The work is different from the operations phase because they are taking things apart rather than keeping them running, but the workers have the same approach: follow the plan, follow the schedule and do it safely, just like we did when we were destroying weapons,” said Dave Apodaca, closure manager, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass.
Decommissioning means rendering equipment safe for removal and eventual demolition or follow-on use. The work began shortly after the last chemical weapon was destroyed on July 7, 2023, upon receiving approval from the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection for a Temporary Authorization Request to begin closure activities.
The process includes decontaminating all spaces where chemical weapons were processed using a mixture of water and various percentages of caustic to clean surfaces, pipes and internal and external machine parts, Apodaca said. The resulting caustic wastewater is sampled to make sure it is within all safe environmental limits and eventually will be transported off site for disposal. Team members continue to wear advanced protective gear during these activities, as they did during operations.
Workers are using specialized tools to dismantle equipment into what Apodaca called “manageable pieces” to be placed in 55-gallon containers and transported from the Munitions Demilitarization Building. Safety challenges include sharp edges and repetitive lifting, according to Apodaca, but workers are trained specifically for the hazards.
“Workers are getting accustomed to the new responsibilities pretty quickly,” he said.
Under the current schedule, Apodaca’s teams hope to have most of the major equipment decontaminated and removed by early 2024. The schedule then will begin to focus on finer details in every room, ranging from the removal of utilities to clearing occluded spaces and carefully removing as much as a half inch of concrete floors.
“Rather than just ripping things out, this is an orderly, detailed, complex process that has involved a lot of analysis and planning,” Apodaca said. “This is a case of ‘sweat the details while thinking big picture.’ That’s what we’re doing.”
Safety of the workforce, community and environment remains the top priority during the plant’s closure phase.