Crews repairing collapsed nuclear waste tunnel in Washington state

Repair efforts continued overnight after a tunnel cave-in at the Hanford nuclear facility in Washington state southeast of Seattle
Crews repairing collapsed nuclear waste tunnel in Washington state

12 May, 2017

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.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Wednesday said his state would issue an order requiring the federal government to figure out what caused Tuesday's tunnel collapse, which happened near Hanford's uranium extraction plant.I'm glad the #Hanford workers are safe and we've seen no contamination.

So workers began putting the contaminated equipment in a pair of concrete tunnels in the 1950s, which are buried in the soil more than two metres deep.

"All personnel are accounted for, there are no injuries", Hanford emergency center spokesman Destry Henderson said Tuesday.

"Weather it's the radiation, or the moisture or heavy snowfalls we had this winter. we just don't know what exactly could be causing this, or a combination of those". That same year, six tanks at the site were found to be leaking radioactive waste.

The cleanup there has cost $19 billion to date and is not expected to be finished until 2060, at an additional cost of $100 billion.

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons.

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Henderson said most employees had been told to stay home Wednesday out of an abundance of caution.

The Energy Department was warned in a 2015 report it commissioned that both tunnels were vulnerable to a collapse from an quake or deterioration of tunnel building materials caused by intense radiation, the report said. Now, there is a tunnel collapse in the region which is full of contaminated particles, which varies from radioactive train cars to other decommissioned transported fuel rods and will become very unsafe if it is not being contaminated as fast as possible.

Crews work to fill dirt into a hole at the Hanford site Wednesday. "It's a mess and it's expensive and it's just another indication of the continued problems associated with the legacy waste - the waste that was generated during the development and manufacturing of nuclear weapons".

"Our next step is to identify and implement longer-term measures to further reduce risks", Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement. There is a massive volume of nuclear waste stored at the Hanford site, about the size of the USA state of Rhode Island, and not all of the storage sites are inspected daily, Heeter said.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit last fall against the Energy Department, contending vapors released from underground nuclear waste tanks posed a serious risk to workers. The agency says the rail tunnels are hundreds of feet long, with about eight feet (2.4 meters) of soil covering them. Experts say that exposure to plutonium and uranium, another radioactive element that may be present in risky levels in the tunnel, can be deadly to humans and animals.

PUREX is longer than three football fields, stands 64 feet above the ground, and extends another 40 feet below ground, according to details on Hanford's site.

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