Tunnel containing radioactive waste in Washington collapses

Robyn Ryan
May 10, 2017

A spokesperson said there was no evidence any radioactive materials had been released and all workers in the area were accounted for. "They 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".

Staff at the Hanford nuclear waste site, 300 kilometres south east of Seattle, have been ordered to "take cover" after a portion of a tunnel contaminated with radioactive materials appeared to collapse.

"Ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority", he said. Workers considered essential for site operations are being told to report to work while avoiding the area of the emergency.

The site was built during World War II and made the plutonium for most of the USA nuclear arsenal, including the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of the war. The U.S. Department of Energy said the collapse covered about 400 square feet (37.1 square meters) instead of the 16 square feet (1.4 square meters) first reported. "We don't know how to deal with this stuff".

There were no workers inside the tunnel when it collapsed.

The emergency alert was declared at 8:26 a.m. near the PUREX (Plutonium Uranium Extracation Plant) Facility.

A TUNNEL at a nuclear finishing plant has collapsed forcing hundreds of workers to "take cover". Earlier, the department had estimated the size of the breached roof area at about 4 feet by 4 feet.

ORIGINAL: 11:30 a.m.

"I would underscore this is confined to a small area of the Hanford site", Destry Henderson, deputy news manager for the Hanford Joint Information Center, told NBC News. And although workers were being sent home for the day, it didn't sound like anyone was in any immediate danger.

No actions is required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties, the U.S. Department of Energy said in an advisory.

The incident was in the 200 East Area, which is located in the center of the reservation.

The Purex (Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant) separations facility at the Hanford Works is seen in an undated aerial photo.

The building has been vacant for almost twenty years, but it remains highly contaminated.

The PUREX facility is about 19 miles from north Richland and seven miles from the Columbia River.

"The Hanford Fire Department is on scene", the Department of Energy reports. It was discovered during a routine inspection and occurred during a massive cleanup that has been under way since the 1980s and costs more than $2 billion a year. The Department of Energy says it's the most challenging of the government's nuclear cleanup projects, with millions of tons and hundreds of billions of gallons of nuclear waste.

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