Emergency Declared at at US Hanford Nuclear Waste Site After Tunnel Collapse

Emergency-Declared-at-at-US-Hanford-Nuclear-Waste-Site-After-Tunnel-Collapse-1
Photo by Jeff T. Green | Getty Images

Hundreds of workers at the Department of Energy’s Hanford nuclear site in Washington state had to “take cover” Tuesday morning after the collapse of 20-foot-long portion of a tunnel used to store contaminated radioactive materials.

The Energy Department said it activated its emergency operations protocol after reports of a “cave-in” at the 200 East Area in Hanford, a sprawling complex about 200 miles from Seattle where the government has been working to clean up radioactive materials left over from the country’s nuclear weapons program.

The agency said in a statement that the 20-foot section is part of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long and is “used to store contaminated materials.”

The tunnel is one of two that run into the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX.  The section that collapsed was “in an area where the two tunnels join together,” the department said.

The PUREX facility, once used to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, has been idle for years but remains “highly contaminated,” the agency said.

Energy Department officials said there was “no indication of a release of contamination at this point” but that crews were still testing the area. Responders also were using a robot to take video and survey the damage.

The department said that Energy Secretary Rick Perry had been briefed, adding that “everyone has been accounted for and there is no initial indication of any worker exposure or an airborne radiological release.”

But Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said there is still cause for concern. “It appears that this is a potentially serious event,” he said. “Collapse of the earth covering the tunnels could lead to a considerable radiological release.”

An August 2015 report by Vanderbilt University’s civil and environmental engineering department said the PUREX facility and the two tunnels had “the potential for significant on-site consequences” and that “various pieces of dangerous debris and equipment containing or contaminated with dangerous/mixed waste” had been placed inside the tunnels.

Emergency-Declared-at-at-US-Hanford-Nuclear-Waste-Site-After-Tunnel-Collapse
The portion of the 20-foot-long portion of a tunnel that collapsed at the 200 East Area in Hanford, Wash. (Hanford Site)

Cleaning up radioactive materials at the Hanford site, which is a federal facility, has been one of the Energy Department’s priorities for years.

Reactors at Hanford produced plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Plutonium production there ended in 1980, and the cleanup program began in 1989.

Former Energy Department official Robert Alvarez said that remotely controlled rail cars once carried spent fuel from a reactor to the PUREX chemical processing facility, which then extracted dangerous plutonium. He said the plant lies near the middle of the sprawling 580-square mile Hanford site and was “a very high-hazard operation.”

Many contaminated pieces of equipment, including the rail cars, have simply been left in the tunnels, he said. The Vanderbilt report said that there were eight rail cars in the older tunnel and 28 in the newer one.

The cave-in was discovered during “routine surveillance,” according to the Energy Department. Photographs showed a gaping hole, plainly evident because the tunnels are largely above ground.

Workers near the PUREX facility were told to shelter in place, and access to the area was restricted, according to the Energy Department statement. Officials requested that the Federal Aviation Administration put a temporary flight restriction in place, according to the FAA.

The two tunnels are covered with about eight feet of soil, according to the Energy Department, which added that “the depth of the subsidence of soil appears to be into the tunnel.”

Alvarez, the former Energy Department official, cited a 1997 report that said the older tunnel was about 360 feet long, 22 feet high and 19 feet wide.

Constructed decades ago, the walls of the older tunnel are 14 inches thick and held up by pressure-treated Douglas fir timbers, the report said. They rest on reinforced concrete footings. The newer tunnel was built with reinforced concrete.

In an email, Alvarez added that “the tunnels now store contaminated train cars and a considerable amount of highly radioactive, ignitable wastes including possible organic vapors.”

And while the older tunnel is reinforced with timber, Alvarez said, “according to a 1997 DOE report, inspection of the tunnels ‘is not feasible because of radiation levels in excess of five roentgens per hour.’ ” A roentgen, or rad, is a measure of radioactive exposure; five roentgens is the annual limit for a U.S. nuclear worker.

Fixing the damaged tunnel could prove difficult. The Energy Department said on its Web site that officials are looking at options that would provide a barrier between the contaminated equipment in the tunnel and the outside air that would not cause the hole in the tunnel’s roof to widen further.

Although the Trump administration has vowed to slash the budgets of most Energy Department programs, the administration does not plan to skimp on the one charged with the Hanford cleanup and with other nuclear sites.

It has requested $6.5 billion for the agency’s environmental management program for 2018.

The budget for Hanford alone is about $2.3 billion in the current fiscal year, about $1.5 billion of that going to the management and treatment of approximately 56 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste stored in underground storage tanks.

Trump has been slow to fill science-related positions, and he has not yet named a new assistant secretary for environmental management; a career department employee is serving in an acting capacity.

During his recent confirmation hearing, Perry was asked by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) about the Hanford site. “So are you committed to funding Hanford cleanup and what it takes and getting the waste treatment plant finished?” Cantwell asked.

“Senator, I’m committed to working with you and prioritizing what is one of the most dangerous, most polluted sites that we have in this country,” Perry replied.

He vowed to visit Hanford and said he looked forward to “walking that site with you.”

On Tuesday, Cantwell issued a statement praising first responders and saying that she was monitoring reports. She said that “worker safety must be our number one priority, and we need to understand whether there has been any environmental contamination resulting from the subsidence at these tunnels.”

Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said in a statement he was aware that “a tunnel was breached that was used to bury radioactive waste from the production of plutonium at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.”

“This is a serious situation, and ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority,” Inslee said.

Find us here

Get news from the CSGLOBE in your inbox each weekday morning

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors/source and do not necessarily reflect the position of CSGLOBE or its staff.

Paid content

China Is Turning The Rainforest Into Cheap Furniture For The U.S.

Driven by American demand for cheap furniture, China has become the greatest importer of illegal timber. The...

France Declares All New Rooftops Must Be Topped With Plants Or Solar Panels

A new law recently passed in France mandates that all new buildings that are built in commercial zones in France must be partially covered in...

Bill Gates Admits to Chemtrails

Bill Gates backs climate scientists lobbying for large-scale geoengineering ( Chemtrails ) Geo-engineers are finally coming out of the “chemtrail” closet, as reports are now...

What's New Today

Georgia House Votes To Allow Citizens To Abolish Police Departments In The State

The Georgia House backed an effort on Friday to dissolve the Glynn County Police Department and any...

Leaked CDC document contradicts Pence claim that U.S. coronavirus cases ‘have stabilized’

Even as Vice President Mike Pence wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Tuesday that coronavirus...

Five bombshells about Trump from Bolton ‘s book

Excerpts from former national security adviser John Bolton ’s book about his time in the Trump administration...

Don’t Listen to Fox. Here’s What’s Really Going On in Seattle’s Protest Zone.

It seems I live in a city undergoing a “totalitarian takeover” that will lead to “fascist outcomes”...

MOST READ

What Is Agenda 21? Depopulation of 95% of the World By 2030

Most people are unaware that one of the greatest threats to their freedom may be a United Nations program which plans to depopulate 95%...

Putin has Banned Rothschild and His New World Order Banking Cartel Family from Entering Russian Territory

As of recently, Russian president Vladimir Putin took yet another decision for his country. "Under any circumstances", the Rothschild family is banned from entering Russian territory. Along...

Don’t Listen to Fox. Here’s What’s Really Going On in Seattle’s Protest Zone.

It seems I live in a city undergoing a “totalitarian takeover” that will lead to “fascist outcomes”...

China Is Turning The Rainforest Into Cheap Furniture For The U.S.

Driven by American demand for cheap furniture, China has become the greatest importer of illegal timber. The...

Fukushima – The Untouchable Eco-Apocalypse No One is Talking About

The most important ecological crisis of the world has ever seen has been underway since March 11th, 2011, yet there is nary a mention...

Stopping Climate Change ‘Almost Impossible’

Stopping Climate Change ‘Almost Impossible’ If China Can’t Quit Coal, Report Says If China doesn’t begin to limit its coal consumption by 2030, it will...

Elon Musk is launching a tunnel digging company to make underground roads in busy cities

As Elon Musk sat in Los Angeles traffic, an idea came to him. What if he build giant machines to drill underground and create...

Starving Cancer to Death by Removing one Food: Refined Sugar

While all of our cells need glucose (a form of sugar which is turned into energy), cancer thrives on a body full of simple...

The System Tells Us What We Like

The system tells us what we like and what we don’t like Our likes and dislikes aren’t our own any more than our opinions and...

This Is The REAL Reason Flight 370 Disappeared

Why Flight 370 Disappeared ? Western Journalism explains the real reason why Malaysia Airline Flight 370 disappeared. Nothing is what it appears to be. Day by...

Cosmetic Testing Is Now BANNED In New Zealand!

New Zealand has recently joined ranks with the 28 countries of the European Union, Israel, India, and the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo by...