Morning Briefing - April 15, 2020
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April 15, 2020

Hanford Employee Being Tested for COVID-19; Cases Confirmed at Nuclear Fuel Services

By ExchangeMonitor

An employee at the Hanford Site in Washington state is being tested for COVID-19, the Department of Energy said in an overnight post.

Cleaning procedures at the facility where the individual works, Building 6269, have been completed in keeping with standards from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hanford management said in the notice. The announcement did not say if the person is a federal employee or contractor, or whether the worker displayed common coronavirus symptoms, such as a fever or bad cough.

In keeping with guidance from the local Benton Franklin Health District, staff assigned to the office building should monitor themselves for signs of illness, DOE said. However, they are not directed to take any special action at this time.

Hanford, like most other DOE nuclear cleanup sites, has drawn down to minimal operations during the federal public health emergency. Probably no more than 20% of its usual workforce remains on-site.

To date, Hanford has not reported any positive COVID-19 results among its workforce of about 11,000 federal and contractor employees.

Meanwhile, BWX Technologies subsidiary Nuclear Fuel Services on Tuesday reported multiple cases of COVID-19 among its workforce.

The Erwin, Tenn., defense-uranium contractor did not say how many employees were infected, or how many potentially exposed employees were in quarantine following contact with the sick workers.

“Our coronavirus response protocols call for enhanced cleaning across the site, social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizing and use of face masks,” Nuclear Fuel Services said in a prepared statement. “Employees who experience COVID-19-like symptoms, have potentially been exposed, or are ill have been instructed to stay home.”

It was not clear whether the COVID-19 emergency response might delay any Nuclear Fuel Services contract milestones. Among other things, the company is producing low-enriched uranium to produce tritium in civilian nuclear reactors for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nuclear weapons programs.

Nuclear Fuel Services also could wind up purifying defense uranium for the weapons program around 2023. The NNSA is negotiating with the company to act as a backstop for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in a few years.

As of late last week, there were more than 50 confirmed cases across the NNSA’s nuclear weapons sites. There are currently at least nine confirmed cases at nuclear-cleanup programs overseen by the DOE Office of Environmental Management.

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