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Army Corps of Engineers: ‘No Surprises’ In Dismantling of Radioactive Barge In Galveston

Work is now underway on Galveston Island to tear apart an old barge that once carried an unusual piece of equipment: a nuclear reactor.


A time lapse video shows the Sturgis arriving and docking at the Port of Galveston in April. Source: Army Corps of Engineers

When the Army Corps of Engineers proposed floating a radioactive barge to a shipyard in Galveston for demolition, you can imagine what some people thought. Islanders grilled the Corps at a public meeting. But the initial push-back died down and this spring, the barge arrived in the Port of Galveston.

In the 1960’s, the barge, named the Sturgis, had been outfitted with a mini-nuclear power plant for use by the U.S. Army. Now, crews are almost ready to begin cutting the Sturgis apart.

“We’ve done an entry into the reactor containment area to get some additional radiological dose readings on some of the larger components we will be pulling out later, “said Brenda Barber, the Army Corps’ project manager.

Barber says the nuclear reactor has no fuel in it but that the metal in and around it remain radioactive but she says at low levels.

“There were absolutely no surprises,” Barber said.

The actual removal of the radioactive parts won’t happen until later this winter. They’ll be buried at a disposal site possibly in West Texas.

As the demolition proceeds, what if a fire breaks out or someone gets hurt? The Army Corps says should local fire or emergency crews need to board the vessel, they’d be accompanied by a “radiation control technician” but would not need to wear any special gear.

The Corps has placed radiation monitors around the perimeter of the shipyard which is a half mile from the Island’s cruise ship terminal.

The Corps expects to have the old barge demolished and off the island by the end of next year.

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Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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