Anne Arundel County cleared a major hurdle on its way to building a new jail in Glen Burnie when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed that the proposed site is free of radioactive contamination.
In a letter dated last Thursday and released yesterday, an NRC official said the portion of the 85-acre parcel on Ordnance Road where county officials plan to build the jail showed no evidence of radioactivity "and may be considered suitable for unrestricted use."
The land never was contaminated by the radioactive thorium nitrate once stored in warehouses in another part of the property, but county officials said they wanted an official determination from the NRC that the plot was clean.
Ten warehouses that were covered with asbestos-laden shingles on the proposed jail site have been demolished by the county.
"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission letter is just another piece of the puzzle that fits. We just have one more step ahead, which is securing the funding from the state," said Lawrence R. Telford IV, spokesman for County Executive John G. Gary. "This detention center will be built, and it will be built on Ordnance Road."
Decontamination of the rest of the property, which includes nine warehouses that are fenced off, has not been completed. Barring severe winter weather, that cleanup should be finished by February or March, said F. Kevin Reilly, a Defense Logistics Agency official who is supervising the project.
Thorium nitrate was stored in granular form in barrels for potential use in a thorium-cycle nuclear reactor when the property was part of the Army General Services Depot. Eventually, the thorium nitrate absorbed water, became liquid, leaked through the drums and contaminated the floor of the warehouses and the soil beneath it.
Removal of the contaminated soil and wood was expected by this fall, but the painstaking drafting of a plan for that purpose and getting it approved by the NRC has accounted for the delay.
Dominick A. Orlando, who is supervising the project for the NRC, said the process is necessary to ensure that the work is done correctly.
Mr. Reilly said work crews suspended operations Thursday and will resume after the first of the year. He said the crews cannot proceed until the next phase of the cleanup plan has been approved by the NRC and that he wanted to give the workers, most of whom live out of state, a chance to go home for the holidays.
"They were basically sitting there because they couldn't go any further," Mr. Reilly said. "Now we've got it together, and come Jan. 4, we hope to knock down buildings and go from there."
Mr. Reilly said crews have found much less contaminated material than anticipated.
Originally, he estimated that he would need seven specially designed boxes to carry contaminated wood and soil to a dump site. "We haven't even filled up the bottom of one yet," he said.