INL News Release
Sept. 2, 2009

Nicole Stricker, 208-526-5955,
John Lindsay, 208-526-9078, 

Investigation answers questions about recent cylinder incident

IDAHO FALLS – Idaho National Laboratory officials are continuing an investigation into events that triggered an evacuation of several buildings at INL's Materials and Fuels Complex (MFC) Aug. 25. An investigation held the day after the event answered some questions about an 18-inch-long cylinder that leaked an unknown gas that morning.

Employees were working at MFC Aug. 25 to remove legacy materials from the site. While surveying and removing the contents of a storage container, workers observed vapor escaping from an 18-inch-long and 1.5-inch-diameter cylinder that had dropped onto the floor of the storage container. The workers immediately stepped back, notified management and evacuated the area until there was confirmation the cylinder posed no potential hazard.

The cylinder was likely manufactured in the 1960s or 1970s by Argonne National Laboratory-West, but it is unmarked and its exact contents haven't yet been confirmed. It was used in a radiation detector for the Zero Power Physics Reactor, and gases known to have been used in these types of radiation detectors include boron trifluoride, methane, helium and argon. Investigators say it is highly probable the gas released was boron trifluoride, which can cause irritation and damage to skin, eyes or lungs on contact.

Workers and first responders took the conservative approach to the situation until they could get more information about the cylinder, its contents and whether it posed a hazard to employees in the vicinity. Trained hazardous material responders ordered an evacuation of adjacent buildings to ensure the safety of all MFC employees.

Once the likely contents of the cylinder were identified and hazardous materials and air-monitoring tests showed no hazard to workers at MFC, the public or the environment, the evacuation boundary was reduced and employees returned to work. The ongoing investigation will attempt to confirm the identity of the gas, establish procedures to safely dispose of the detector and establish additional controls, as necessary, for handling and disposal of other, similar detectors.

INL is one of the DOE's 10 multiprogram national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE's strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation's leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory is the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.

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