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Whittaker Corporation (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)

This site description was provided by the cognizant Agreement State, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) makes no claim regarding the validity of the information provided. See our Site Disclaimer for more information.

1.0 Site Identification

Type of Site: Complex Decommissioning Site
Location: Greenville, PA
License No.: SMA-1018
Docket No.: 040-7455
License Status: Decon

2.0 Site Status Summary

Whittaker is located within an industrial park, approximately 6 km south of Greenville, PA. The site comprises a 5.9 acre strip of land located between the Greenville Metals Plant and the Shenango River. The site is divided into four sections:

Section I comprises the southern end of the site and consists of a mixture of slag and gravel which sits above a tributary leading to the Shenango River. Metal scraps are observed within the slag and gravel mixture and the northern end of the section. No large pieces of slag or elevated readings have been observed in Section 1.

Sections 2 and 4 are located in the center of the site. This area is comprised predominately of slag material. Two visually distinct types of slag are present. One slag is blue-green and the other is black. The blue-green slag has a glassy texture and the black slag is porous and rocklike. The black slag contains the radioactive material.

Section 3 comprises the northern end of the site. A large part of Section 3 is covered by a concrete slab. Three sided bins containing slag material and piles of slag mixed with other debris are on top of the concrete pad. The bins contain low-level waste source materials and non-toxic industrial waste some of which is also contained in rusting drums. The eastern portion of the Section 3 is densely vegetated.

Facility topography (prior to the initiation of decommissioning) had been built up through the repeated disposal of slag, scrap metal, debris, and foundry sand. The slag piles had reached elevations of twenty feet or more above the adjoining river flood plain.

The slag piles in Section 2 have been excavated and screened to remove the radioactive material, which was shipped for disposal.

Mercer Alloys Corporation was founded in 1955 for the purpose of reclaiming valuable scrap metals from old jet engines and aircraft. The operations were later expanded to include processing ferro-columbium, ferro-nickel, and ferro-molybdenum alloys from ores, as well as accepting other forms of scrap metal. Some of the raw materials and feedstock used in these processes contained licensable quantities of natural thorium or uranium. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) issued License No. SUB-864 to Mercer Alloys in February 1966 for the possession of 250 pounds of uranium. The company was purchased by Whittaker Corporation in 1967, and the license was allowed to expire in February 1969, because no radioactive materials had been procured or used. However, the licensee began receiving columbium ore containing source material (thorium-232) in October 1969, prompting them to apply for a new license.

AEC issued License No. SMA-1018 to Mercer Alloys (Whittaker) on December 15, 1969 for the possession of 16,000 pounds of source material. Processing of the columbium ores resulted in concentrating thorium, and some of the processed scrap metals contained natural and depleted uranium. Both of these contaminants were concentrated and retained in the resulting waste slag. Processing operations utilizing licensable materials ceased in 1974, and Whittaker sold the metal alloys division to another company (Exomet, Inc.). Under the terms of the sale, however, Whittaker maintained ownership and responsibility for the source material. In early 1975, Whittaker initiated decontamination of the equipment and plant areas that Exomet desired to begin using. Contaminated equipment, rubble, and slag resulting from these cleanup efforts were added to existing slag and waste piles located in the site's eastern section. The portion of the property housing the plant was released for unrestricted use following the performance of a confirmatory survey by the NRC in 1975. An additional plant building was decommissioned in 1983 and released for unrestricted use in 1985. This plant side of the property remains an active business, now operated by Greenville Metals, and is not associated with Whittaker or the remaining licensed area. The plant is separated from the slag and waste site by metal fencing.

Thorium-and-uranium bearing wastes, raw materials, feed-metal scrap, and contaminated building materials that were generated from the facility decontamination activities are contained in the licensed and controlled waste and slag storage areas that comprise the Whittaker Site.

In 2004, the site initiated decommissioning activities, starting in Section 2, where the highest activity slag was believed to be located.

On June 27, 2013 the Whittaker Corporation's radiological contractor was contacted by the local emergency response team regarding a fire and possible explosion inside the operating area of the Whittaker site. Initial indications are that the most likely cause of the event was an exothermic reaction resulting in material being ejected from the waste pile and over the remediation area boundary.

The Department received notice of the explosion on June 28, 2013 from Whittaker's radiological contractor. Since that time they have kept the Department informed on the status of the site and expected next steps to safely address the problem. At the time, the site was shut down from normal activities and a 24 hour; 7 day per week fire watch had been established. Air monitoring was set up around the perimeter of the site and samples of the suspect material were collected and sent to a lab for analysis. The fire watch was maintained through late July.

Currently, Whittaker's radiological contractor is in the process of assessing the East and West waste pile materials for reactive and radioactive material. WDI in Michigan has proposed accepting, for disposal at their facility, waste containing very low concentrations of radioactive material from the Whittaker Site in Pennsylvania.

3.0 Major Technical or Regulatory Issues

Greenville Metals Inc. (GMI) is an active business that borders the Whittaker property to the west, and has yet to be fully characterized for radioactive materials. The Whittaker Corporation is aware of the high potential for contamination on the GMI property and that the Department has requested a Characterization Plan for the property.

During excavation of section 2, additional subsurface contamination was identified that extends beyond the fence separating the property from GMI. The material is below ground level, and may not be accessed from the uncontrolled side of the fence. There are no adverse safety consequences to the public or to workers at GMI due to this material in its current configuration. Its discovery, however, required Whittaker to further characterize how far onto the property the material extends. Whittaker prepared a summary of the characterization and a dose assessment for release of the GMI property in 2007 for NRC. They were told to wait to submit it until Pennsylvania (PA) became an Agreement State as NRC would not have adequate time to act on it. The package was resubmitted to PA after receiving Agreement State status. The documentation was forwarded to PA consultants at Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for thorough review. ORISE was heavily involved with the site as an NRC contractor prior to agreement state as well.

During excavation of section 3, additional subsurface contamination was identified that extends beyond section 3's fenced area onto the adjacent water treatment facility's property. The extent of this material is unknown and along with the GMI property should be included in the characterization plan. It is expected that Whittaker Corporation will submit plans to fully characterize material that remains onsite, extends offsite onto the GMI property as well as the water treatment facility's property. A characterization plan has been requested by the Department.

The license for the site was turned over to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania after it became an Agreement State.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, November 25, 2013