After more than three years of work, the Sturgis is preparing to leave Galveston.
The former floating nuclear power plant has been moored in the Port of Galveston since 2015. While there, crews have worked to remove irradiated material from the vessel and properly dispose of it.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday announced all of the components of the Sturgis’ deactivated nuclear reactor and other waste had been safely removed.
The barge will leave the Port of Galveston later this month for Brownsville, where it will be scrapped.
The announcement nearly closes the door on an expensive federal project that began with questions about the safety and fears about the wisdom of bringing nuclear waste into the Port of Galveston.
Contractors at Malin Shipyard’s facility at Pier 41 have removed more than 1.5 million pounds of radioactive waste from the Sturgis since it arrived in Galveston in April 2015, said Brenda Barber, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District, which oversaw the project.
A team of more than 50 people worked more than 325,000 hours to remove the waste, she said.
There are no signs the material led to any contamination at the site where the barge was being worked on, Barber said.
“Environmental monitoring has been continuous since prior to the arrival of the Sturgis in Galveston and no evidence of radioactive material, lead or increased radiation exposure from the Sturgis has been documented outside of the reactor containment area at any point during the project,” she said.
The corps plans to tow the barge out of Galveston the week of Sept. 24, she said.
The Sturgis stirred some local worries in late 2014 and early 2015 as the shipyard where the work took place sought permission to perform “objectionable” work at the site.
Some residents worried what would happen if a hurricane struck while radioactive material was in the port, or whether the barge would be a target of a terrorist attack.
Corps officials countered by saying the material on board the ship posed little threat to public health, and that they were taking every precaution to make the work site safe.
The council ultimately approved the project, which has prompted few concerns since.
“Everybody’s imaginations and stuff can kind of take you places that are real and sometime not real,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough during Thursday’s council meeting, where corps officials presented the city council with a flag from the Sturgis project team.
The corps had been “great to work with” during the Sturgis project, Yarbrough said.
The Sturgis began its life as a World War II-era Liberty ship, a type of military cargo ship. It was converted into a floating nuclear power plant, the first of its kind, in the 1960s.
The ship was used to generate electrical power for military and civilians in the Panama Canal zone during the 1960s, according to the corps. The reactor was shut down in 1976. The fuel was removed and it was mothballed in 1978.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense decided to have the ship dismantled. It had been stored in Virginia for decades until the federal government ordered it to be destroyed.
The project originally was planned to take 18 months to complete, but was delayed because the corps needed to bring in larger cranes to lift heavy material from the vessel. Some of the pieces crews removed from the Sturgis weighed as much as 80 tons.
The original contract for the project was about $35 million. The delays and need for larger cranes increased the cost to $51 million.
The Sturgis project had a $20 million positive economic impact in Galveston, Barber said.