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Thursday, April 13, 2000

Navy: Leak
aboard nuclear sub
never posed a danger

Workers aboard the
USS Olympia simply wash off
slightly radioactive water

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Three Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard workers were exposed to minute traces of radiation when water leaked from a pipe in the propulsion plant of the nuclear-powered submarine USS Olympia yesterday.

But the Navy said there was never any danger to the environment from the radioactive water or to the workers.

The radioactive water is now stored in one of the submarine's bilges, Navy spokesman Jon Yoshishige said.

This was at least the fifth accident at the shipyard involving nuclear submarines, but none has involved nuclear systems on the subs. In 1998 the Navy reported that:

Bullet An ensign on the USS Los Angeles had to stop the closing of a torpedo loading hatch because proper safety procedures were not followed.
Bullet A Navy diver was injured while removing the propeller on the USS Columbus. The equipment the diver used to loosen a propeller nut broke loose, striking the diver. The diver was treated for a scalp cut.
Bullet The removal of a protective cover for a sea water system valve on the USS Key West was not properly done, causing some flooding.
Bullet There was an electrical maintenance problem on the USS Chicago.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Olympia -- one of 21 at Pearl Harbor -- was undergoing routine maintenance at a shipyard facility next to the submarine base when the leak occurred at 5:37 a.m.

The leak was detected when water was being returned to the propulsion plant system following maintenance on a valve in the sub's reactor compartment, Yoshishige said.

About 500 gallons of water were released and drained into the reactor bilge, where waste water from that part of the ship is collected.

The reactor was not operating at the time and had been shut down for more than two weeks.

Six shipyard workers were in the reactor compartment when the leak occurred. Three workers received small amounts of radioactive material on their skin but washed it off with soap and water, Yoshishige said.

Another worker also suffered a minor cut on the head. He had backed into an object as he was moving away from the leaking pipe. The worker was treated at Tripler Army Medical Center and released. His name was not released.

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