Nuclear reservation tunnel collapse triggers alert in Washington state

Posted at 11:47 AM, May 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-09 15:25:18-04

HANFORD, Wash. – The federal government has evacuated some workers at a former nuclear weapons production site in Washington state Tuesday after concerns about shifting soil near tunnels containing contaminated material at the Hanford site.

Fox News reported a tunnel at the shuttered plutonium uranium extraction plant collapsed.

The U.S. Department of Energy Richland Operations Office activated the Hanford Emergency Operations Center at 8:26 a.m. local time, after an alert was declared, according to the official Hanford site.

“There are concerns about subsidence in the soil covering railroad tunnels near a former chemical processing facility. The tunnels contain contaminated materials,” the US Department of Energy said in a statement.

The tunnel at the Hanford plant was full of contaminated particles, including radioactive trains that transport fuel rods, KING5 reported.

According to the Hanford website, “there is no indication of a release of contamination at this point.”

He said no workers were in the tunnel at the time of the collapse.

Workers in other areas of the Hanford Site have been told to stay inside.

CNN reported, since 1989, the government has been in the process of cleaning up the site, which state and federal authorities have dubbed “the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere.”

“Hanford made more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors along the Columbia River. Five huge plants in the center of the Hanford Site processed 110,000 tons of fuel from the reactors, discharging an estimated 450 billion gallons of liquids to soil disposal sites and 53 million gallons of radioactive waste to 177 large underground tanks,” the US Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management said on its website.

Hanford became a focal point of US nuclear efforts beginning in 1943, when aspects of the Manhattan Project were moved there, CNN reported.

Thousands of workers moved into the site where plutonium was produced for use in atomic bombs. Two bombs were dropped on Japan during the final days of World War II.

The site, about half the size of Rhode Island, in an area centered roughly 75 miles east of Yakima, continued to buzz during the Cold War, with more plutonium production, as well as the construction of several nuclear reactors, according to CNN.

The last reactor shut down in 1987, shortly before the mammoth cleanup effort began.

Efforts were bolstered by about $2 billion in federal stimulus funds authorized several years ago, but decades of work remain, CNN reported.

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Crews are currently surveying the area near the PUREX tunnels for contamination. Crews are using hand surveying techniques in the outer areas around the PUREX facility. At and near the area of subsidence crews have deployed a TALON, which is a remote operated surveying device that is capable of radiological and industrial hygiene monitoring as well as capturing video footage. The TALON device allows crews to safely survey potential areas of contamination from a distance of up to ½ mile.