Nov. 6, 1997 AIKEN, S.C. -- Research conducted in the Ukraine by University of Georgia professor Ron Chesser has resulted in a rather unusual gift for the workers at Chernobyl -- radiological uniforms and respirators. Chesser, who works at the University's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, helped organize an effort to donate excess anti-contamination clothing and related items to the Ukraine. The items were no longer being used at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site (SRS) where the Ecology Lab is located.
Chesser has conducted radioecology studies in the Chernobyl area since 1992. He learned of the excess material at the DOE site in 1996, when a contract employee at the SRS saw his research featured on CNN and approached him about the excess items. The worker, George Brodie, told Chesser about the 2,000 bags of uniforms and more than 3,000 respirators that were available.
"Protective clothing for radiation is in very short supply at Chernobyl," says Chesser. "We wondered if we could find a way to give the materials to Chernobyl workers."
The material includes white radiological uniforms. The Department of Energy, consistent with commercial and naval nuclear program standards, no longer uses white protective clothing for radiological work. Yellow clothing is used instead. Also available were full and half mask respirators. Although the equipment was in good condition, the standards for that equipment has also changed.
During an August 1996 trip to Chernobyl to conduct research, Chesser took examples of some available items to administrators at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where clean up from the 1987 reactor accident is underway.
There Chesser inquired about their interest in the materials. When it was determined that they wanted the equipment, plans were made to ship the uniforms and respirators. The clothing and other equipment were combined with items from the Department of Energy's sites at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Hanford, Wash., for shipment to the Ukraine.
The arrangement is also beneficial to the Department of Energy, according to Larry McLean, manager of general services at SRS, who noted that disposal of the items would be very expensive.
"This is a great win-win proposition," says MacLean. MacLean estimates that conventional disposal methods would cost SRS about $1 million.
All of the clothing, including lab coats, coveralls, cloth hoods and shoe covers, is in excellent condition, notes Chesser. Some of the uniforms cost more than $200 each. Although some of the clothing contains trace levels of contamination, it is low enough easily to allow re-use by radiological workers and is within radiological release guidelines.
Paramount to everyone involved in the effort, says Chesser, was a desire to make sure that the Ukrainian government really wanted and needed the equipment.
"We wanted to be very careful that we weren't just unloading our discarded materials on the Ukraine," says Chesser. "And once they got it, we wanted to make sure they could maintain it."
Therefore, he says, an extra step was taken and DOE sent washing machines and special detergent with the uniforms.
All of the materials were shipped in March and are now making their way from St. Petersburg to Chernobyl. Funds for the shipment were provided by the Department of Energy through Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.
Chesser is involved in studies of the effects of radiation on wildlife living in and around the site of the nuclear accident in the Ukraine. He looks forward to his next visit to the site when he will see the items being put to use in the reactor areas.
"This project really made good sense," says Chesser.
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