Lawmaker: Collapse highlights safety concerns

Governor Kay Ivey and newly-named Alabama Teacher of the Year Chasity Collier of Mobile at the awards ceremony
Energy secretary wants study to prevent more problems at Hanford

12 May, 2017

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.

Construction crews in protective gear and ventilation systems, are filling the hole that appeared above a rail tunnel that was used to transport radioactive equipment at Hanford.

The site contains a lot of contaminated equipment, such as the rail cars, which have simply been left in the tunnels which could pose to be a hazard.

On Tuesday morning, about six Hanford employees on routine rounds noticed that an area of soil over one of the tunnels had sunk, Henderson said. It's estimated that almost two-thirds of the plutonium used by the USA government during Hanford's lifespan - and a staggering amount of related waste - was produced at this one site.

"We're going to approach this slowly, safely and methodically", Henderson said.

The collapse of a tunnel at the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the United States has raised safety concerns at such facilities described by some as ticking time bombs.

The hole was discovered Tuesday at the former nuclear weapons production complex, prompting the evacuation of some workers and thousands of others to shelter-in-place for a few hours.

The area contains about 56 million gallons (211.98 million liters) of radioactive waste, most of it in 177 underground tanks.

Workers north of the Wye Barricade, a security checkpoint at the site, were told not to report to work on Wednesday if they were not essential to safety or security.

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.

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Heeter said there are eight rail cars inside tunnels at the site that were used to transport radioactive material. Non-essential workers who live north of the site's Wye Barricade entrance were asked to stay home Wednesday.

The federal agency was expected to take those actions without prodding, but the state made the move in its role as the regulator of a massive, ongoing cleanup of the site.

The tribe also said the tunnels should be cleaned of radioactive waste and radiation long before a deadline of 2042 set by a cleanup agreement between the federal and state governments.

So far, there has been no evidence of any airborne contamination caused by the collapse. That order will remain in effect until Wednesday evening for non-essential overnight worker too.

"This disaster was predicted and shows the federal Energy Department's utter recklessness in seeking decades of delay for Hanford cleanup", he said.

It has been sealed since the mid-1990s, according to the department of energy.

"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 about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

"There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point", the Department of Energy says.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the breach a "serious situation" in a statement earlier on Tuesday.

Hanford for decades made plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal.

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