With $12M from feds, University of Nevada, Reno to decontaminate building

RENO — The University of Nevada, Reno has secured $12 million in federal money it will use to start decontaminating a campus building that was once used to test radium.

The school's Facilities Services Building has been vacated and the 30 employees working there have been relocated since low levels of radiation were detected in 2016.

The building was used from 1920 to 1954 by the U.S. Bureau of Mines to test radium-226.

The U.S. Department of Interior announced Aug. 14 it would send $12 million to the school to start the decontamination.

Denise Baclawski, the associate vice president of facilities services, told the Reno Gazette Journal that the process could take 27 months, though the exact process has not yet been settled. She says the school will seek a consulting firm to help with the project, and a survey of the building needs to be done.

"If the carpet were decontaminated, they would remove the carpet, and then they would test the surface underneath. And if that was contaminated, they would remove the surface underneath. And kind of keep peeling back the layers of onion until we're able to get test results that are of a level were we would consider it decontaminated," she said.

The school hopes to get the building to a point where it can be safely occupied. But it's possible that the building will need to be demolished if the decontamination process requires going deep enough that the building is destroyed.

U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican who represents the area in Congress, helped secure a U.S. Department of Energy review and money for the project.

"Since learning of this issue, securing the funding needed for the remediation of this building has been a top priority of ours," Amodei said in statement from his office. "It's encouraging to see our efforts pay off and to know the students and faculty who will soon utilize this historic facility will be able to do so safely."


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