Fire causes small radiation leak at North Pole test lab

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2001

NORTH POLE (AP) -- Authorities secured an area around the Mappa Inc. laboratory here after an early morning fire caused a small radiation leak and destroyed an estimated $500,000 in equipment.

Radiation levels inside the building Thursday were measured at 430 micro-roentgens per hour. Normal background levels were said to be between 10- and 17 micro-roentgens.

Officials said they didn't consider the radiation to be a threat to anyone, but planned to be cautious.

''If you were to stand there at the edge of the building, you would have to stand there for at least 10 hours, more toward 100 hours, to get an exposure equivalent to a chest X-ray,'' said Brad Hahn, an emergency response program director with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

A security guard was hired, nonetheless, to prevent public access, Hahn said.

''Right now, we don't know much, so we're playing it safe,'' Hahn told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Co-owner Chris Mack said about $60,000 of renovations had been completed over the past month.

''It's unbelievable,'' Mack said while walking around the burned out shell of the roughly 30-by-100 building. Only some walls and a skeletal roof remained of the father-and-son business.

The state was waiting for help from the National Response Center to decide what needs to be done for cleanup.

Technicians with the state Department of Health and Social Services and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission were to examine the scene Friday.

The radiation was believed to have come from some soil density meters with radioactive cores. The fire caused the outer shell of at least one of the meters to melt, allowing the radiation to leak, officials said.

The company uses the meters to test cement and asphalt strength.

Firefighters with the North Star Volunteer Fire Department arrived at about 5:15 a.m. to find the building engulfed by flames.

Crews concentrated on keeping the fire from spreading to a 1,000-gallon fuel tank and a 100-gallon propane tank at the back of the building, Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Hanson said.

No one was in the building at the time of the blaze. The cause of the fire is not yet known, but Hanson believes it started in the center of the building.

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