Nuke-missile mess cleaned up

Nuke-missile mess cleaned up

PLUMSTED — Plutonium-contaminated soil is now safely off the premises of Navy Lakehurst.

Sixty-five shipments of the contam-inated material were transported without a single incident, according to a press release.

And the signs posted around Navy Lakehurst designating the route for safe transport of the contaminated soil from the Boeing Michigan Aeronautical Research Center (BOMARC), originating at Fort Dix in Plumsted, are slated to be taken down.

The successful completion of a cleanup effort solved an environmental problem that has been in existence for more than four decades.

"We helped rid New Jersey of a hazard without putting the local population at risk," Capt. Mark Bathrick, Navy Lake-hurst commanding officer, said in a press release. "We kept it off the public roads because the bases (Dix, Lakehurst, McGuire) are all connected across a single 42,000-acre parcel. With the success of this mission, we have again proven our ability to cooperate with each other and with our community neighbors to undertake complex projects and see them through to a satisfactory conclusion."

The Air Force, in partnership with the Navy, transported and disposed of more than 22,000 cubic yards of plutonium-contaminated soil and debris from the BOMARC site, one of eight Cold War-era nuclear missile sites located around the country.

According to a press release, in June 1960 a fire destroyed a nuclear warhead-equipped missile at the BOMARC facility. Although no explosion resulted, damage to the structure released plutonium into the environment, which was further spread by fire suppression activities.

"For over two years the Air Force and the Navy have collaborated to safely and successfully transport the contaminated soil," said Mike Figura, an environmental engineer at Navy Lakehurst who oversaw the BOMARC cleanup project on station.

According to Figura, although the BOMARC contamination is of the lowest levels of radioactive waste, concern for the safety of the general public prompted this particular partnership between the neighboring bases.

"Although Navy Lakehurst has not had active rail service for more than 20 years, we still retained a railroad right-of-way that connected to the same Conrail [line] the Air Force wanted to use," Figura said. "The Navy allowed the Air Force to rebuild our rail line and extended it within our fence line so they could truck the waste through Department of Defense property, avoiding public roads and private residences."

Rebuilding the rail line within the base’s fence line, said Figura, provided added security for the waste while it was transferred to rail cars prior to shipment.

With the successful accomplishment of the BOMARC remediation mission, Lakehurst’s attention now is turning toward using the rail line for additional joint service ventures.

"We are going to continue to build on this proven capability," said Bathrick, who envisions using the line as part of a Dix-Lakehurst-McGuire and Naval Weapons Station Earle mobilization hub with the potential to support rapid deployments of Army equipment from Fort Dix via rail to the pier at Naval Weapons Station Earle in the Leonardo section of Middletown.