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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nuclear Power Plant "Sturgis" enters the Panama Canal(1968). Records of the Army Signal Corps, RG 111; National Archives and Records Administration - College Park, Md.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nuclear Power Plant "Sturgis" enters the Panama Canal(1968). Records of the Army Signal Corps, RG 111; National Archives and Records Administration - College Park, Md. (Photo by Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)

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Type of Program: Army Deactivated Nuclear Power Plant Program, MH-1A - STURGIS– James River Reserve Fleet, VA

Project Phase: Decommissioning Studies/Planning  

Authorization: AR 50-7 – (customer Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

BACKGROUND: Following a thorough environmental assessment with a 30-day public comment period, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $34.66 million contract to CB&I Federal Services for the decommissioning, dismantling and disposal of the STURGIS barge in March 2014. This winter, the STURGIS will be relocated from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia to Galveston, Texas for decommissioning and dismantling.

Safety is the number one priority, and the Corps of Engineers will use proven controls and precautions to address safety and other engineering details throughout the project.

A public meeting was held Sept. 9, 2014 in Galveston.  All of the meeting materials are available under project documents on the right-hand side of the website:  http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental/Sturgis.aspx


 · All of the decomissioning work will take place in the Malin International Shipyard, which is located in an industrial area of Galveston Island, not the Strand.  A map of the location is on page four. 

 · The STURGIS will be situated in a slip that is behind multiple fences and controlled by security. There will be no public access to the area.

 · This process will be conducted in a contained area of the barge using proven industry standards.

 ·  The MH-1A nuclear reactor, which is installed on the STURGIS barge, has no nuclear fuel. 

 ·  The residual radioactive materials are in the form of activated materials and contamination, and are located within the remaining primary reactor systems that pose no radiation dose risk to the public. The residual radioactive material will be taken to a licensed disposal facility.    

 ·  There are normal project risks associated with this project that the Corps of Engineers will mitigate throughout the project (i.e. weather, transportation risks, etc). 

 ·   It is anticipated that the STURGIS will be in Galveson for 12-18 months. 

HISTORY: In March 1963, the World War II Liberty Ship Charles H. Cugle was selected from the Mobil Reserve Fleet for conversion to a mobile power source containing a high power pressurized water nuclear reactor designated the MH-1A.  The propulsion plant was removed from the vessel, and the midsection was replaced with a new midsection containing the power plant, a 350-ton steel containment “spheroid,” and a concrete collision barrier.  The vessel, which essentially became a barge, was renamed STURGIS. 

The STURGIS operated at Fort Belvoir, Virginia for about one year and was then transferred to Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal Zone where it was used to generate electricity for military and civilian use. 

In the 1970s, the Department of Army recommended that the deactivated reactors be placed into a safe storage mode that would allow the shorter-lived radionuclides to decay. It was expected that delaying decommissioning would reduce radioactive waste volumes and worker exposures. After final shutdown in 1976, the STURGIS was towed to Fort Belvoir to deactivate the reactor for safe storage. At that time, the Department of Army prepared an Environmental Assessment that indicated that deactivation would not create significant adverse local, regional, or national impacts on the environment. The principal activities involved in deactivating the reactor of the STURGIS were: 1) removal of the nuclear fuel which was returned to the Department of Energy; 2) disposal of radioactive wastes/components; and 3) isolation of the remaining radioactive materials from the public by appropriate physical barriers.

The reactor was de-fueled, decontaminated, and sealed before being towed to the James River Reserve Fleet at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, where it has been for more than 35 years. During this time the STURGIS has been monitored and received periodic dry dock maintenance. The MH1-A nuclear reactor has been in long-term safe storage.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION: The STURGIS is considered an historic property and eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  Through consultation with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Corps has prepared a Memorandum of Agreement that addresses the required mitigation efforts for vessel disposal.  These efforts will include preserving any historic items on the STURGIS, where applicable.  Additionally, the Corps has made historic videos of the construction and testing of the STURGIS available in the History section of the project website: http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Missions/Environmental/Sturgis.aspx

ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESMENT: In 2013, the Corps of Engineers conducted an Environmental Assessment to evaluate potential ecological, cultural, water, public health and safety, and waste management effects associated with the proposed decommissioning and disposal of the STURGIS.  During the Environmental Assessment the Corps of Engineers looked at four potential places for dismantling: Galveston, Texas; Hampton Roads Metropolitan Area, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; and Charleston, South Carolina.  A public notice was posted in all four major newspapers in the potential areas, announcing a 30-day public comment period. The comment period ran from Jan. 27 to Feb. 25, 2014.   No comments were received.  The Environmental Assessment determined there would be no significant environmental impact at any of these locations as a result of this proposed action.   The Environmental Assesment and Finding of No Significant Impact are located on the project website in the Project Documents section. 

When choosing potential locations, consideration was based on proximity to the Corps of Engineers offices, waste disposal facilities, areas that have supported previous work with nuclear vessels, shipyards, and/or ship breaking operations. Galveston was ultimately chosen based on a best value assessment. The best value approach allowed the Corps of Engineers’ contracting officials to closely examine, evaluate and rate contractors on their respective qualifications and performance capabilities and choose the best qualified contractor. Evaluation factors other than cost, when combined, were significantly more important than cost alone.   The major evaluation factors included technical approach, management approach, risk mitigation and past contractor performance. 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission completed a General Environmental Impact Statement on the decommissioning of nuclear facilities in 1988 and a supplemental document in 2002.  The Corps of Engineers used this document when conducting the Environmental Assessment of the STURGIS Project. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s General Environmental Impact Statement can be found here: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr0586/   

WASTE SEGREGATION PROCESS: The Corps of Engineers and its contractors consider green and sustainable remediation practices in all aspects of our technical approach and project execution.  Keeping that in mind, the project team will analyze each specific waste streams to determine if they are appropriate for decontamination and recycling.  If decontamination and recycling are not an option, the items will be disposed of as a radioactive/hazardous waste.  

There will be a vast array of waste streams generated during the decommissioning process.  These wastes will be assessed, transported and disposed of in accordance with local, state and federal regulations.  Some specific wastes streams may include asbestos, lead based paints, PCBs, elemental lead used for shielding, and radioactive materials.  Each of the consolidated waste streams must comply with the selected disposal facilities waste acceptance criteria and permits/licenses issued to that facility.

The Corps of Engineers is still looking at options on the final disposal of the STURGIS after all of the hazardous waste and residual radioactive waste have been removed. 

MONITORING: The Corps of Engineers will conduct environmental monitoring of the air, water, sediment and external exposure prior to, during, and after the STURGIS Project.  The monitoring activities conducted during the project will be reviewed and compared to established regulatory limits.   Results of monitoring will be made available on the project website and emailed to the project’s stakeholder list.  Monitoring after the completion of the STURGIS Project will be compared to the baseline surveys completed prior to project initiation.  The chart on the right provides some annual dose limits and/or exposure averages for specific events in units of mrem.  The chart indicates that the average annual radiation dose to a member of the public from naturally occurring radioactive materials, medical procedures, and consumer products is 620 mrem per year.  The maximum public dose/exposure limit for the STURGIS project is set at 100 mrem per year, which is a very small fraction of the average annual exposure. We don’t anticipate reaching the maximum public dose limit during the project. The materials that will be released from the STURGIS project must meet the 1 mrem criteria. We will continue to work closely with the Texas Department of State Health Services throughout the project.   

HURRICANE PLAN: It is anticipated that the STURGIS will only be in Galveston for one hurricane season.  In the event of severe weather, including a hurricane, the Corps of Engineers will implement detailed plans.  This includes double tying the STURGIS in place and making sure it is water tight. The STURGIS will be left in the shipyard to ride out the storm. This plan is consistent with what Malin Shipyard has done before during previous hurricanes.

EXPERIENCED TEAM: The Corps of Engineers has a highly skilled team of engineers, scientists, radiation safety specialists (health physicists), industrial hygienists,  and contractors dedicated to the project. The contract employees, who will direclty dismantle the STURGIS, are all trained in safely handling radioactive and hazordous waste. 

Additionally, the Radiological Health Physics Regional Center of Expertise, based out of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, is overseeing this project. This highly trained and experienced team of health physicists provides radiation safety and technical support to the Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies across the United States and overseas for projects involving all aspects of radiological work. A member from the Center of Expertise will be on hand in Galveston throughout the project. 

For more information on the Center of Expertise please visit the website: http://www.nad.usace.army.mil/About/RegionalCentersofExpertise/RadiologicalHealthPhysics.aspx

CONTACT: If you have questions, please contact Andrea Takash at andrea.m.takash@usace.army.mil or 410-962-2626.  Also, if you would like to be added to our monthly email updates please contact Andrea.