Workers Evacuate After Tunnel Damage At Nuclear Waste Plant

Alvin Kelly
May 19, 2017

The Department of Energy says a 20-foot-by-20-foot section of soil caved in where two underground tunnels meet next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, known as the PUREX plant.

"I can confirm we are investigating a small area of soil that had sunken", Henderson added.

"This is a conservative approach". "We're going to approach this slowly, safely and methodically".

Anna King of the Northwest News Network, a public radio station collaboration, reports that approximately 3,000 other workers in the area were originally taking cover indoors.

The Department of Energy said "Secretary [Rick] Perry has been briefed on the incident [and] the Department will continue to monitor this closely".

Former Energy Department official Robert Alvarez said that the rail cars carry spent fuel from a reactor area along the river to the chemical processing facility, which then extracts unsafe plutonium and uranium.

Lyman pointed to a description of the storage tunnels from a report from the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation in 2015 about the Hanford site, saying there is quite a lot of cesium-137 and plutonium in those tunnels. The tunnel's contents, including trains, were contaminated with nuclear waste. It came after an alert at the 200 East Area, which is home to numerous solid waste sites.

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Officials did not say how long the work will take to fill the area. The breached tunnel was used to "bury radioactive waste from the production of plutonium", Inslee said.

"It's too early to know what caused the roof to cave in", said Henderson. Workers discovered the cave-in during routine surveillance. The cleanup is expected to cost more than $100 billion dollars by the time it is completed in 2060. Workers were told to shelter in place as a precautionary measure and crews are continuing to check for contamination, according to the statement.

"Absolutely a huge warning to Hanford, to the federal officials who oversee that site, and to the state of Washington".

Responding agencies include the U.S. Department of Energy; Richland, West Richland, and Kennewick city fire and police; Benton, Franklin, and Grant County fire and police officials; Washington state patrol; and OR and Washington state officials. "There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point".

"This is a serious situation, and ensuring the safety of the workers and the community is the top priority".

Four years ago, Washington Governor Jay Inslee dragged the Hanford site into the spotlight after disclosing that six tanks holding radioactive waste at the complex were leaking, with one underground storage tank losing as much as 300 gallons of radioactive sludge a year. "The tunnels contain contaminated materials", said an emergency alert posted online.

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