GALVESTON

More than 850,000 pounds of radioactive waste has been removed from a former floating nuclear reactor being dismantled in the city’s port.

More than 98 percent of the radioactive material onboard the Sturgis has been removed from the vessel, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday.

Crews most recently removed large components from the barge’s reactor containment vessel and reactor pressure vessel, the corps said. The vessel were taken out of the ship, placed in a secure transport vehicle and shipped by truck to a disposal facility in Andrews County, Texas.

All of the material that’s been moved from the ship has been transported safely, the corps said. In addition to the radioactive material, another 600,000 pounds of non-contaminated materials have been removed and recycled from the barge.

Removing the reactor pieces was a top priority for the crews ahead of the Atlantic hurricane season, the corps said. The season started June 1.

More contaminated items will be removed over the next several months. When all of the material is removed, the ship will be sent to Brownsville for ship-breaking.

Over the next several months, the team will remove the remaining contaminated items, package and transport them to the disposal facility. After all of the radioactive materials have been removed, the team will access the hull bottom tanks to complete the required surveys to allow the vessel to be released for ship-breaking.

The Sturgis arrived in Galveston in April 2015. The $36.4 million project to dismantle the barge, which was once used as a nuclear reactor to power facilities in Panama, drew controversy from some residents before it began. However, there have been no reported environmental or health problems from the project since it began.

The Sturgis began its service as a World War II Liberty ship. In 1963, it converted into floating nuclear power station and outfitted with a nuclear reactor. The ship was eventually used to provide electricity for the Panama Panama Canal Zone. The reactor was shut down in 1978 and had been kept in storage in Virginia until the corps decided to dispose of it.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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