History of Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington state

10 May, 2017, 04:04 | Author: Valerie Burke

Thousands of workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Richland were forced to take cover indoors after a tunnel containing radioactive waste collapsed Tuesday morning, government officials said.

"The Department of Energy informed us this morning that a tunnel was breached that was used to bury radioactive waste from the production of plutonium at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation", Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Workers have been evacuated from the area or told to seek shelter; there have been no reports of injuries.

Four years ago, U.S. inspectors were investigating a possible leak at the Hanford nuclear site after an elevated contamination reading was found in a leak detection pit.

Cleaning up radioactive materials at the Hanford site, a federal facility, has been one of the Energy Department's priorities for years. The tunnel's contents, including trains, were contaminated with nuclear waste.

"We'll have to get to the bottom of that", he said. A Site Area Emergency is declared when the event is affecting or could potentially affect personnel beyond the facility boundary but not beyond the boundary of the Hanford Site.

The robot can detect radiation, volatile gases, and trace explosives and has been used in situations from the aftermath of 9/11 to the Boston Marathon bombing. The site has been described in media reports as the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States.

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No workers were inside the tunnel when it collapsed, causing soil on the surface above to sink two to four feet over a 400 square foot area, officials said. The tunnels were constructed of wood and concrete with a soil covering approximately 8 feet deep.

There were no workers inside the tunnel when it collapsed.

It might seem like this sort of thing would be noticed immediately, the worker said, but the tunnel may have actually collapsed days or weeks ago, and since there was no radiation release, it was only noticed during a regular site walk-around.

"Hanford sits next to the Columbia River".

Experts are also concerned with the state of the site's "double shell" tanks - 1-million-gallon tanks that hold most of the site's radioactive waste.

Although there is still a lot of work to be done at the site, considerable progress has been made to reduce the risks posed to the health and safety of the community and the environment, the department wrote. It was one of the original Manhattan Project sites. Its nine nuclear reactors irradiated uranium fuel rods. That created plutonium, which was extracted with chemicals, processed and shipped to weapons factories. "If something goes wrong, the cells could be damaged".

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