No Need To Worry About Radiation At U.S. Submarine Base

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Since 06-21-05

Excerpted from NSL UPDATE 06-15-05


Navy: No Need To Worry About Radiation At U.S. Submarine Base

There is no radiological contamination that has had an adverse impact on the environment or the health and safety of the general public, and this has been well proven

By MARK W. KENNY, The Day. Published on 6/8/2005

Some aspects

The Day's front-page article titled, "Radiation questions remain a concern at Submarine Base," published June 2, require comment, including the headline. There is no concern at the Submarine Base for radioactivity associated with nuclear-powered submarines. The Navy's practices for controlling radioactivity have always met or exceeded any federal standard.

The releases of low levels of radioactivity to the river in the late 1950s and 1960s were small by national and international standards, and were not large even compared to other nuclear programs today. The Navy took action in the late 1960s toward eliminating such releases, even though this was not required by federal regulation. Thus, while it is true that the Navy's practices in the first 15 years of the nuclear Navy were not as strict as the Navy's own very strict practices for the subsequent 35 years, they were not "weak by today's standards."

Even the earlier practices had no significant impact on the environment in the Thames River and near the Submarine Base. In addition to the Navy's environmental monitoring, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its predecessor, the Public Health Service, have performed detailed radiological surveys dating to the 1960s. Trace amounts of radiation

These surveys consistently concluded that trace levels of radioactivity in the marine environment resulting from these early practices contributed a negligible increase to the background level of radioactivity in the environment and posed no hazard either to the public or the environment. There has never been any need for special disposal precautions for dredged sediment due to radioactivity.

The barely detectable traces of radioactivity still present in the river sediment today, less than 1 percent of the natural radioactivity, also require no further action either by U.S. or international standards. The article also stated that there is uncertainty with potential radiological contamination of land-based facilities associated with nuclear-powered submarine work. As described in the published Historical Radiological Assessment cited in the article, radiological work at the Submarine Base was performed on the ships themselves, in floating drydocks or on radiological support barges.

The only land-based radiological operation was storage of already packaged radioactive material while awaiting reuse or shipment for off-site disposal. Only within the past five years has the radiological support barge been replaced with a state-of-the-art, land-based radiological support facility. Like all other such facilities in the Navy, this facility was designed to eliminate the potential for radiological contamination of the building itself as well as the surrounding land environment. Nominal radiation exposure

The Navy's radiological standards and the environment in which our personnel work are such that even with their work on the actual nuclear-powered ships, they receive less radiation exposure than the average citizen receives from natural background radiation. The Historical Radiological Assessment was shared with federal, state and local authorities and is available in the Groton and Ledyard public libraries. The absence of radiological contamination at Navy bases is further corroborated by the closure and radiological release for unrestricted use of the Mare Island and Charleston Naval Shipyards in the 1990s.

These shipyards started work on nuclear-powered submarines nearly as early as the Submarine Base, and they performed the full range of reactor refueling and overhaul work. Only much less complex work is performed at operating bases while working to the same standards. At both shipyards, after the known and controlled radiological equipment was removed, very extensive confirmatory surveys detected essentially no radioactive contamination of buildings or the environment - in both cases the amount of radioactivity found and removed was only about as much as that contained within a single household smoke detector.

The Navy performed a similar process at the site of the former prototype submarine nuclear-reactor facility in Windsor. The EPA recently wrote that the effort to decommission and radiologically release this site "will be the standard to which similar projects are measured in the future." For U.S. Navy nuclear-powered ships and their support facilities, there is no uncertainty regarding radiological contamination of the marine or land-based environment.

There is no radiological contamination that has had an adverse impact on the environment or the health and safety of the general public, and this has been well proven. The writer is a rear admiral in the Navy, commander of Submarine Group Two and commander of Navy Region Northeast.