Tunnel Collapse Renews Safety Concerns About Nuclear Sites

Tunnel Collapse Renews Safety Concerns About Nuclear Sites

Tunnel Collapse Renews Safety Concerns About Nuclear Sites

The collapse of the underground tunnel containing radioactive waste that forced workers to shelter in place is the latest incident to raise safety concerns at the sprawling site that made plutonium for nuclear bombs for decades after World War II.

The tunnel contains railcars filled with radioactive waste.

"Overnight, several employees were on the scene out there", said Destry Henderson, spokesman for the Hanford Site's emergency operations center.

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

Hanford, located in southcentral Washington state, has about 9,000 employees and a lot of them were told to stay home Wednesday, Henderson said.

That mostly worked until Tuesday, when a hole roughly six metres in diameter opened up above a joint between the two tunnels.

Hanford Nuclear Reservation made plutonium for nuclear weapons for decades and is now the largest depository of radioactive defense waste that must be cleaned.

Its last reactor closed down in 1987 and since then some 8,000 people at the facility have been working to clean up millions of gallons of leftover waste stored in aging tanks.

The cleanup of Hanford's waste is expected to last until 2060 and cost an additional $100 billion over the $19 billion already spent. "At the moment we're focusing on the safety of workers and making sure there's no release beyond [the] immediate site".

The cause of the partial collapse of the tunnel, which was built in 1956, has not been determined.


Heeter said there are eight rail cars inside tunnels at the site that were used to transport radioactive material.

The spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Ecology.

People were anxious that the radiations released from the tunnel may affect them especially that Hanford is close to Richland, around 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

The anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear said the incident helped show "radioactive waste management is out of control". Nonessential employees have since been sent home, and essential employees were instructed to avoid the site of the tunnel.

It has been sealed since the mid-1990s, according to the department of energy. He said the federal government has failed over the years to remove the waste in a timely manner.

Carpenter said while no contamination was detected from the tunnel collapse, the incident highlights the challenges facing clean-up efforts at the massive facility, which spreads across 586 square miles (1,518 square kilometers).

"No action is required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties", the department said.

Lawyers for the Energy Department have said no evidence has been provided showing workers have been harmed by vapors. "After extensive testing the site remains confident at this point that there has been no indication of worker exposure or an airborne radiological release".

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry acknowledged the problem with nuclear waste, saying the nation can no longer delay fixing the problem because lives are at stake.

The Hanford Site was part of the Manhattan Project, which led to the production of the first atomic bombs, including the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

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