BY INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA — Demolition of the first Separations Process Research Unit at Knolls Atomic
Power Laboratory began July 18.
The SPRUs, located on River Road in Niskayuna and known as Buildings G2 and H2, were constructed in the late 1940s. They were used as pilot plants for research on the separation
of plutonium and irradiated uranium for the Navy’s nuclear fleet.
They operated from February 1950 to October 1953, according to Stephan Tetreault of the Office of Environmental Management.
The demolition is a part of a national SPRU demolition and cleanup project by the U.S. Department of Energy, which began in 1999.
The contractor for the site is URS Energy & Construction, a subsidiary of AECOM.
After the SPRU closed in 1953, KAPL was charged with clearing the buildings of radioactive materials.
While much of the material was removed by KAPL, according to the U.S. department of Energy, residual materials were left in the tanks in buildings H2 and G2, and interconnecting pipe tunnels.
In 2010, cleanup of radioactivity and chemical contamination in the SPRU Lower Level Railroad Staging Area, Lower Level Parking Lot and SPRU North Field areas was
completed, according to the DOE’s website.
However, the buildings G2 and H2 had to be decontaminated and decommissioned
as well. This process started in 2014. The inactive waste storage tanks located within the H2
tank vault were removed, a pipe tunnel was cleared, and the associated contaminated soil was also cleared.
According to Tetrault, “The work was performed in a tent enclosure with filtered ventilation to
ensure protection of workers, the public and the environment.”
The buildings are 24,000 square feet each.
When the federal project director, Steven Feinberg, presented the plans for demolition to the Niskayuna Town Board in February 2016, he said the DOE was investigating the use of small explosive charges to be used for demolition.
However, the DOE decided to instead use a more conventional method and tools — hydraulic
hammers, metal shears, and clamshell attachments.
“In the same manner as during conventional projects, URS will be using controls such as water spray and [a sticky liquid] to minimize the generation of dust. During demolition,
water that accumulates in the excavation footprint will be collected and disposed of off-site,”
said a DOE spokesperson.
All waste will be shipped to a facility out of New York state. About 15 truckloads a week are expected to leave the site during the demolition phase.
“After demolition is complete, URS will sample the underlying soil to demonstrate the cleanup criteria has been met, then URS will backfill and re-grade the area, and restore roadways and storm water drainage,” a DOE spokesperson said.
There are not yet any future plans for the land.
Niskayuna Town Planner Laura Robertson said the DOE has been open with the town about its plans to demolish Buildings H2 and G2.
“At this stage the material that most people worry about has been safely removed, and the town appreciates that the cleanup is in its final stages. The environmental impacts of the building now that it is finally being demolished are largely visual,” Robertson said.
The DOE said the demolition will be completed by the end of 2016.