MU requests extension in response to Pickard Hall radioactivity

Unharmful radiation has been present in the building since the early 1900s.

The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and MU met Thursday to discuss an extension for the decommissioning of radioactive materials inside Pickard Hall.

Pickard Hall is located on Francis Quadrangle and is recognized as a state historical building. It houses the Museum of Art and Archeology, one of MU’s free museums.

“Considering the educational, cultural and historical value of the museum and building, it is in the best interest of the public to delay initiation of remediation,” stated a letter to NRC from MU’s Radiation Safety Officer Jack Crawford.

NRC is an independent federal agency that regulates civilian use of nuclear materials.

The origins of Pickard’s radiation began shortly after the building’s completion in 1892, sometime in the 1900s. Radiation as an idea was still in its early stages. Much of the negative effects of radiation exposure were still unknown.

Herman Schlundt supplied naturally occurring radioactive materials to MU for research in Pickard Hall, the chemistry building at the time. The radiation emitted from Schlundt’s materials caused by-product nuclear material to form in the walls of Pickard. These new radioactive materials are the cause of the current problems the university is facing.

The “hot spots” for radioactivity are found in the basement and attic of the building. The radiation has been measured at 13 millirem. This amount of radiation is not dangerous. NRC representatives explain it to be comparable to the radiation food provides, so there is no cause for major concern.

"NCR has verified licensee performed dose assessment which concluded no dose limits have been exceeded in the buildings current configuration," NRC branch chief Christine Lipa said.

MU first became aware of the by-product nuclear materials in the 1970s. At that time shields were installed along with other protective measures and the building was deemed safe.

In September 2008, NRC was given authority over the regulation of NORM materials. These new regulations caused the university of re-examine Pickard Hall, and on Nov. 17, 2009 they informed NRC of excessive radiation levels within the building. From that point on MU was given one year to present a plan for the decommissioning of the hall.

The main purpose for the night’s hearing was to discuss MU’s request for an alternative schedule that would allow an indefinite amount of time for the decommissioning plan to be presented to NRC. Due to Pickard’s historic roots and the displacement of faculty and students, MU would like more time to arrange an efficient way to reorganize the building’s contents and plan for renovation.

At the time of the hearing, NRC had yet to make a final decision on the extension of the one-year deadline. Some individuals attending the hearing stated that an indefinite extension is unwarranted in the case of Pickard Hall. Several other historical buildings on campus have already been “gutted” and it was claimed MU would use a similar method when decommissioning Pickard. A concern was also voiced to the safety of the ancient ceramics that are on display in the museum.

NRC welcomes public comment and will be receiving questions and comments concerning Pickard Hall, dockett number 03002278, on their website until July 5.

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