Most Contaminated Nuclear Site In US: Hanford Declares Emergency After Tunnel Collapse

Hanford tunnel containing nuclear waste collapses

Hanford tunnel containing nuclear waste collapses

An emergency has been declared at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington state after a portion of a tunnel that that contains rail cars full of nuclear waste collapsed.

Henderson said non-essential employees in the northern part of the facility had been asked to stay home Wednesday to allow crews to focus on fix work, which began overnight.

There are no reports of injuries.

The mishap occurred atop one of two rail tunnels under a plant located in the middle of the Hanford site. He said workers had laid down gravel to support heavy equipment that would be used "to begin placing soil slowly and methodically in the caved-in portion of that tunnel" on Wednesday.

A former Hanford health physicist who years ago reviewed and refused a permit for the tunnel that collapsed Tuesday told KOIN 6 News the Hanford Site needs to be decommissioned for the public to be safe.

The tunnel roof collapse caused soil on the surface above to sink 2 to 4 feet over a 400 square foot area, officials said.

The tunnels in question were storing rail cars that once carried radioactive nuclear fuel from reactors to production facilities, back when the site was still used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

"Hanford is the nation's largest nuclear cleanup site, with 56 million gallons of radioactive waste sitting in old, leaky underground tanks just a few hours upriver from Portland". Now, about 8,000 people are working on a massive cleanup that is expected to cost more than $100 billion and last through 2060. There is a massive volume of nuclear waste stored at the Hanford site, about the size of the US state of Rhode Island, and not all of the storage sites are inspected daily, Heeter said.

Eight rail cars are in the tunnel that collapsed, but it feeds into a longer tunnel that contains 28 loaded rail cars.

Employees at the sprawling Hanford Site plant, located about 170 miles (275 kilometers) southeast of Seattle, were sent an early morning alert by management telling them to take cover and to "secure ventilation" and refrain from eating or drinking.

Plutonium production at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation stopped in 1980 and cleaning up radioactive materials has been the Energy Department's top priority for years. No workers were inside at the time and the remaining workers at the site were evacuated.

So far, there has been no evidence of any airborne contamination caused by the collapse.

Railcars filled with radioactive waste are buried in the wood and concrete tunnels, which are covered by about 8feet of soil.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Energy said almost 5,000 employees were at the Hanford Site, which spreads across 586 square miles (1,518 square kilometers), when the emergency was declared and they were ordered to take cover.

"No action is now required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties", the Energy Department said, referring to the almost 300,000 residents near the site. "There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point".

"This is a serious situation", Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in reassurance.

The committee oversees the department's management of the cleanup efforts. Notably, plutonium produced at Hanford was used in the bomb USA military forces dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

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