Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Predator maker's radioactive soil contamination level remains unknown
Stealthy cold war "TRIGA" reactor disassembly and storage on General Atomics Torrey Pines campus audited by Nuclear Regulatory Commission
These days, San Diego-based General Atomics is most famous for its Predator drones, deployed in theatres of war around the world. Controlled by wealthy La Jolla Republican brothers Linden and Neal Blue, the operation also dabbles in rail guns, nuclear fusion, and biofuels, all supported by federal taxpayers, as well as uranium mines and radioactive waste mills in the Southwest United States and Australia, which the brothers presumably pay for on their own.
50 years ago, well before the Blue brothers owned it, General Atomic, as it was then called, was at the center of the nation's cold war with the Soviet Union. In addition to coming up with a scheme to employ nuclear bombs for space transportation (never built), the company developed the so-called TRIGA reactor, a relatively small and simple controlled fission device distributed to America's global friends and allies for atomic research.
The machines were built and operated inside the sprawling complex that General Atomic - then owned by military contracting giant General Dynamics - built on land given to it by San Diego voters in the late 1950s.
The last TRIGA on the site was shut down in 1995, but the federal government still hasn't managed to clean up the radioactive mess that remains behind.
"There are two reactor facilities currently undergoing decommissioning," according to a November 16 audit report released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The report says radiation doses received by General Atomics employees during the cleanup of the approximately 120-acre campus have been within federal limits.
"In 2011, 442 badges were issued and 54 percent received no measurable dose. The highest recorded annual dose was 776 mrem, less than the 5000 mrem limit set [by federal law]. This high exposure was due to work with various activated items stored in the Mark F pool that were being inventoried and characterized for proper packaging and disposal off-site."
The audit goes on to say, "the dose to a tenant assumed to be a member of the public who was located in the breezeway outside of Building 2, is less than 12 millirem in a year, well below the site ALARA goal of 25 mrem in a year and significantly less than the 100 millirem per year limit [set by federal law]."
Though much radioactive material has already been hauled away, according to the document, questions about the amount and degree of remaining radioactive soil are still unanswered.
"The long-range schedule for decommissioning and details as to how the process should proceed depend primarily on the extent of soil contamination surrounding the biological shield/pool of the Mark F reactor.
"The extent of soil contamination will impact the methods of building demolition and soil excavation.
"Characterization of the soil will require coring through the sides and floor of the Mark F Pool. Removal of radioactive items and water must be completed prior to initiating core sampling. "
Image: Inside TRIGA reactor
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