Tunnel collapse renews safety concerns about nuclear sites

Thousands of workers at a nuclear site in the U.S. state of Washington were ordered to take cover Tuesday after a storage tunnel filled with contaminated material partially collapsed, but there was no indication of a radioactive leak. Workers started filling the hole Wednesday.

Workers in town and at the 300 Area of Hanford just north of Richland were to report to work as usual.

Clifford Hampton is a maintenance manager at Hanford and says it could have been much worse.

"They've laid some gravel down on which heavy equipment will operate today to begin placing the soil, slowly and methodically in the caved-in portion of that tunnel".

A former Hanford health physicist who years ago reviewed and refused a permit for the tunnel that collapsed Tuesday told KOIN 6 News the Hanford Site needs to be decommissioned for the public to be safe.

The U.S. Department of Energy says the incident caused the soil above the tunnel to sink between 2 and 4 feet (half to 1.2 meters).

The nuclear site, which is twice the size of Singapore, was used to produce plutonium for the bomb that brought an end to World War II. The most risky are 56 million gallons of waste stored in 177 aging underground storage tanks, some of which have leaked.

The latest estimate to finish the overall cleanup of Hanford is more than $107 billion and the work would take until 2060.

Decommissioning the Hanford Site should be a congressional priority, Bricker said. An emergency was declared Tuesday after the partial collapse of the tunnel that contains rail cars full of radioactive waste.

Railcars filled with radioactive waste are buried in the wood and concrete tunnels, which are covered by about 8feet of soil.




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

"I don't think that you can compare INL to Hanford; the patients that we see are completely different", explains Angela Hays Carey, of Nuclear Care Partners.

Hanford is now the biggest reservoir of radioactive defense waste which must be cleaned.

Now it's run by the Energy Department and its contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, and is in the midst of a massive $110 billion cleanup of 56 million gallons of chemical and nuclear waste stored in 177 underground tanks.

Many workers in the vicinity were initially ordered to shelter-in-place when the cave-in was discovered Tuesday at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation about 200 miles southeast of Seattle.

Ecology is requiring the federal Department of Energy, through an enforcement order, to immediately assess the integrity of the tunnels, one of which partially collapsed on Tuesday, and take swift corrective action.

Some employees were evacuated and others were told to move indoors as a "precaution", officials say.

"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.

"This disaster was predicted and shows the federal Energy Department's utter recklessness in seeking decades of delay for Hanford cleanup", he said.

"There is no indication of a release of contamination at this point", the Department of Energy says.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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