Tunnel collapse latest safety issue at nuclear site

Tunnel collapse renews safety concerns about nuclear site

Crews have begun filling in a 400-square-foot collapse in a tunnel that is loaded with radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation near Richland, Wash., the Department of Energy said Wednesday.

Authorities have detected no signs that radiation emanated from the collapsed tunnel, and the hole was filled with 53 truckloads of dirt delivered by workers wearing protective gear, Perry said.

The tunnel contains railcars filled with radioactive waste.

On Tuesday morning, about six Hanford employees on routine rounds noticed that an area of soil over one of the tunnels had sunk, Henderson said.

In addition to the tunnel collapse discovered Tuesday, dozens of underground storage tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state - some dating to World War II - are leaking highly radioactive materials.

Workers noticed the 20-foot hole in the tunnel's roof Tuesday.

Hanford made most of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons, including the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, during the war. The most unsafe are 56 million gallons of waste stored in 177 aging underground storage tanks, some of which have leaked. Now, about 8,000 people are working on a massive cleanup that is expected to cost more than $100 billion and last through 2060.

"Our top priority is to ensure the safety of Hanford workers and the community".

The tunnel was built to house rail cars that were filled with contaminated equipment and moved into the tunnels during the Cold War, the center said.

No workers were inside the tunnel when it collapsed, and other workers who were ordered to shelter-in-place were later sent home early as a precaution, Hanford said.

A spokeswoman at the Department of Energy said almost 5,000 employees were at the Hanford Site, which spreads across 586 square miles (1,518 square kilometers), when the emergency was declared and they were ordered to take cover.

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

The anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear said the incident helped show "radioactive waste management is out of control".

Radioactive materials were brought into the tunnel by rail cars for about a decade.

Worker safety has always been a concern at Hanford, which is located about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

Most on site work at the nuclear reservation was canceled Wednesday. "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".

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the breach a "serious situation" in a statement earlier on Tuesday.

"No action is now required for residents of Benton and Franklin counties", the Energy Department said on Tuesday, referring to the almost 300,000 residents near the site. "After extensive testing the site remains confident at this point that there has been no indication of worker exposure or an airborne radiological release". Notably, plutonium produced at Hanford was used in the bomb US military forces dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

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

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